First words, next words

I like trivia games. Nothing too esoteric or arcane, but still a bit challenging. A friend of mine knows music. Not my specialty. Because of life on a submarine, time in Kenya, and formation time as a friar and priest, I have large gaps in my musical knowledge and exposure. I do alright in history, swimming, and (likely no surprise here) the Bible.

OK, here is a Bible trivia question: What are the first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John? It is an interesting question. Think about writing the story of the Son of God, the Redeemer, the Messiah. Wouldn’t you want the first words to be compelling, memorable, and revealing? And after all, think about the amazing beginning to the Gospel – that memorable opening prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”(John 1:1-5) You’d think you would want to follow that up with some amazing first words from the One was in the beginning, was with God, and was God.

So…what are the first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John? They are in John 1:38 when Andrew and John are following Jesus because John the Baptist had proclaimed “Behold the Lamb of God” and pointed to Jesus. “Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” (v.38)

Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel are not a sermon or an exorcism or the proclamation of the coming kingdom, as in other gospels, but rather a question: “What are you looking for?” The richness of this question in the original Greek also could have been translated, “What are you seeking?” or “What do you hope to find?” And we might expand that to “What do you need? What do you long for? What do you most hope for?”

It’s a great question, one we encounter all the time in our market-driven culture. The market asks us that question all the time, except it’s not really a question, but a set-up for an already formulated answer. The reply quickly becomes, “I know what you’re looking for and we are prepared to fulfill that need for a price. And in case you aren’t sure what you are looking for, let us suggest whiter teeth, a new car, to lose 10 pounds, to be a fashionista, have an Apple 10x smartphone… operators are standing by.”

The first month of the year is almost past. The pirate invasion came and went. And maybe only now are you getting to the question: What are you looking for? And of course, there are all manner of corollaries: Where are you looking, with whom are you looking, how committed are you to looking, and more. And perhaps an equally great question is: Can this community of faith provide it?

What do you seek? Is it silence in a world of so much noise? Is it a relationship in a world increasingly isolated and in an isolating world? Is it community in an individualistic and often lonely culture? Is it the chance to serve and be connected to others in a world that encourages putting yourself first? Is it hope and courage when headlines inspire fear and despair? Is it Sabbath rest in a 24-7 world where relentless busyness has become a badge of honor and easily overcomes meaningful activity and necessary rest?

The problem with not having an answer to the question is perhaps well summed up in the expression: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there… you just might not like where you end up.”

By the way, there is a second part of the trivia question – what are Jesus’ second words in John’s Gospel? The answer is, “Come, and you will see.” (v.39) In this new year, perhaps the beginning of the answer to the question of “what are you looking for?” is answered in Jesus’ invitation of “Come and you will see.”  So… what will you do this year to come to Jesus so that you might know what it is that you are looking for in your heart of hearts?


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