The Gospel for this week takes place the day after Jesus gets baptized. This is St. John's account of events. (John the apostle, not John the Baptist.) We hear about Jesus acquiring his first disciples. Seven sentences are spoken aloud. Each one is interesting, but one of them is particularly odd:
‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’
‘What are you looking for?’
‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’
‘Come and see.’
‘We have found the Messiah’
‘You are Simon son of John.
You are to be called Cephas’
One of these sentences is not true. We may not notice it at first.
Let's look at each sentence.
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’
John the Baptist stands still. Jesus is in motion. John exclaims this strange name for Jesus only after he sees Jesus, only after Jesus comes near. We take notice of this strange name because only John the Baptist ever uses this title for Jesus. Nowhere else in Holy Scripture can we find this phrase. Jewish people sacrifice lambs to commemorate the Passover—to celebrate God who saves them and leads them to freedom, God who gives them the Word and forms them into the people of God. So we know that the name "Lamb of God" fits Jesus because he saves us and leads us to freedom, he gives us himself—the Word made flesh—and forms us into the people of God. This sentence is not the untruth.
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’
John the Baptist's sentence sends the two disciples after Jesus. Jesus turns. Jesus sees them. Jesus asks them a probing question. That means he asks them to look inside of themselves. He does not ask them what they are doing, but why. In effect, he asks, what is it that you want? What do you desire? This question probes their hearts. This question is not the untruth.
They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’
Their question does not directly answer Jesus' question, but it is not the untruth. Why do they not answer him directly? Perhaps they have not examined their own hearts. Their question, though, tells us something about them. They want to know more about Jesus. They only know that he is a rabbi, a teacher. They must sense that there is more to him. They want to come closer to him.
He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
Jesus invites them to come closer. He says come and see, and the disciples come and see. No untruth here. (Of course, we never expected Jesus to say something untrue!)
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed).
Andrew fills with excitement at his encounter with Jesus. First thing he does is to go and find his brother to tell him that Jesus is the Messiah. Earlier he only knows that Jesus is a teacher, but now he knows that Jesus is much more. Andrew may not know exactly what it means that Jesus is Messiah, (we may not know exactly what this means either), but like us, he knows this is true.
Andrew says, "We have found the Messiah." Is this all true? Do they find the Messiah? Certainly, as the Gospel says, Andrew finds his brother, but does he find Jesus? As we look back at the text we see that:
Jesus comes near.
Jesus sees them.
Jesus probes their hearts.
Jesus invites them to come closer.
The disciples do not find the Messiah; Jesus finds them.
Jesus acts first. Jesus chooses his disciples. Can we conclude from this that, in choosing disciples, God acts first?
He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
His encounter with Jesus inspires Andrew to bring Simon Peter to Jesus. He wants his brother to know Jesus, too. Jesus looks at Simon Peter. Jesus sees him. Can we imagine that? Can we imagine being seen by Jesus? What must that be like, knowing that he truly sees us?
And then, Jesus names him in the manner of true Jewish custom.
Jesus names him who he is: Simon.
Jesus names him who he belongs to: son of John.
Jesus names him what he will do: Cephas—Peter—the Rock. We know that Peter is the Rock on whom Jesus builds his church. He is the first pope, the disciple who leads the faithful once Jesus returns to his Father in heaven.
This is all true. We can see that Jesus knows Simon Peter.
Again, Jesus acts first. Jesus knows Simon Peter, and he chooses him, calling him by name.
We believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We also believe that God never changes, or else God is not God. So from this Gospel passage, we learn that:
God comes near to us.
God sees us.
God probes our hearts.
God invites us to come closer.
God finds us.
God names us.
God knows us.
God chooses us.
God calls us by name.
God acts first.
So now we must consider, when does this happen? Has it already happened? Will it continue to happen?
We know that we are called by name at our Baptism.
"Emily Joan, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Again at Confirmation, as we are anointed with the holy Chrism oil, we are called by name.
"Frederick, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."
But are we being named by God?
Did not our parents choose our names? Did they choose, or did God act first?
In Confirmation, we have the choice to choose a saint's name for ourselves. But do we choose that name, or does God act first?
Is it true that God chooses us as disciples?
Are we named who we are, who we belong to, what we will do?
We may have noticed that one of the disciples in this Gospel passage is not named.
Is it wrong then to conclude that God chooses disciples and that God names them?
Or would it be fair to consider that we do, in fact, know this disciple's name, because we heard it first at our Baptism?
These questions probe our hearts. As we consider them, we answer God's invitation to come and see.