Dear God, Let us be gripped by the message you are giving us, the questions you ask us and the way of life you open up for us, and please breathe your Spirit into us now to lead us into more and more truth, in the name of Jesus, Amen.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John gives the framework for the whole Gospel. In the Prologue (1:1-18) the big picture of God-centred reality is given. Jesus is God’s Word (full self-expression and self-giving) become a human being, full of life, light, grace and truth. He relates to ‘all things’ and ‘all people’, is not overcome by evil, gives ‘power to become children of God’, is related to God like an only child to a parent, and is ‘close to the Father’s heart’. So at the heart of the universe is this loving relationship, and the rest of the Gospel can be read as an invitation to follow Jesus and take part in this love of God and of the whole world.
Our passage begins after John the Baptist has been introduced as the main witness testifying to who Jesus is (this ‘who’ question is the central one of the Gospel). Repetitions are very important in John’s Gospel (remember ancient authors had no underlining, capital letters, subheadings, bold print, text boxes, or other means of emphasising what is most important, so they often use repetition). In v.36 John the Baptist calls Jesus ‘the Lamb of God’. This has many meanings, perhaps above all for John the lamb killed at Passover in the Jewish re-enactment of the Exodus of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. In John 19, Jesus dies at Passover at the time the Passover lambs were being killed. Then comes the story of Jesus gathering his first disciples (literally ‘learners’). Note the different elements in becoming committed to Jesus – hearing the testimony, following, seeing for themselves, being brought by a relative, hearing what Jesus says, being called a new name.
Above all, note that the first words of Jesus in this Gospel are a question: ‘What are you looking for?’ (v.38) This is the formation of a community of learners, and good learning communities are formed around deep questions. Jesus asks: What do you desire, what are you seeking, longing for, pursuing? At the end of the Gospel the resurrected Jesus asks Mary Magdalene the most important version of this question: ‘Whom are you looking for?’ (20:15) The first disciples then ask another fundamental question: ‘Teacher, where are you staying?’ The Greek word for ‘stay’ is menein, and can mean abide, dwell, live, endure, continue. It is a key word of John (e.g. eleven times in John 15:1-17). John 1:18 has already given the deepest answer to this question.
Taking seriously the question of Jesus, ‘What are you looking for?’, can transform our lives. Jesus wants to educate our desires, to orient our lives, and to make us passionate about the things he is passionate about, which in John’s Gospel include loving the world, loving each other, truth, healing, feeding, forgiveness, abundant life, peace, prayer, and the shaping of a community that can improvise in the Spirit (given ‘without measure’ – 3:34) on what he did and said, and even do ‘greater works’ than he did (14:12).
Essential to all that is learning more and more. Jesus Christ is ‘the Word of God’ and ‘the Truth’; through him all things and people were made, so our horizon of interest should embrace all people, all religions, all cultures, all history, all the arts and sciences, all reality. We need to be gripped by important questions and seek understanding and truth. John writes his Gospel above all to draw us deeper and deeper into the endlessly rich truth opened up by Jesus’ question to Mary, ‘Whom are you looking for?’ His ‘I am’ is the deepest secret of reality.
1. What do we desire most?
2. How can we become better ‘learners’/disciples with other learners in the global community of the followers of Jesus?
3. What does it mean now to follow Jesus who has been crucified and raised from the dead, has breathed the Holy Spirit into his learners, and says: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ (20:21)?
4. Who is Jesus?
Dear Father,Give us wisdom to help shape our families, groups and other communities as you desire, and let us have the joy of sharing our lives with others in love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
- David F. Ford, The Drama of Living. Becoming Wise in the Spirit (London, SCM 2014)
- Andrew Lincoln, The Gospel according to Saint John Black’s New Testament Commentary (London, Continuum 2005)