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Seeing the one who rescues us from ourselves

January 16, 2015
Sister Maria Catherine, OP

At first blush this scenario seems insignificant. Fellow Hebrews are beginning to notice Jesus as a rabbi who teaches with authority. Before we quickly move on we might think: Jesus is beginning to establish his posse of followers, but that’s it.

However, here in the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ identity is revealed repeatedly with subtle simplicity. The verbs in this passage give us the deeper clue. For both John the Baptist and Jesus the actions indicate references to vision: “saw,” “looking,” “watched.” The two disciples, John and Andrew, don’t respond to sight; they respond to hearing. “The two disciples heard and followed ….” They each respond based on hearing John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, rather than by seeing Jesus. Scripture is giving me a subtle hint that students and seekers, like myself, do not yet have the vision; I must see through my teachers. Only after patient listening will the lesson unfold in my heart.

The word obedience comes from the Latin “ob audire” meaning to “listen” or “hear.” In the parable of Lazarus, the rich man begs Abraham and Lazarus to appear to his relatives, thinking that seeing someone rise from the dead will convince his family of the truth of the Gospel now that he grasps the peril of losing salvation. Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). It’s hearing that leads to faith rather than seeing. This is also why we hear Mass on Sundays, rather than passively watch Mass. It’s the hearing that leads to conversion.

Jesus responds candidly to the two inquirers with a “sight” verb, “What are you looking for?” Jesus’ gaze is no ordinary look (Mark 10:21). He is probing to the depths hoping they will respond with openness to his invitation to an exchange of immeasurable love. Their response sounds like two, shy schoolboys, “Where are you staying?” They seem sheepish. In Jesus’ look they saw the deeper inquiry he was making. He is really asking, “What do you desire?” Their bashful answer is also revealing: We want you. Where are you staying?

Scripture goes on to say that these two spent the day with Jesus. There is no itinerary, no list of activities to accomplish listed in the text. They merely spent time with him. But something pivotal happens in that time, enough to make Andrew race to his brother Simon at 4 o’clock in the afternoon: “We have found the Messiah.” After spending time with Jesus, Andrew is able to answer the question Jesus had posed to him in the morning: “What are you looking for?” What do the disciples desire? Someone to save them: the Messiah!

Often people insist that Jesus Christ is a good person, virtuous and even enlightened. But they cannot see him as the savior of the universe, the one who rescues us from ourselves. I can say with confidence that Jesus isn’t merely a great teacher, because of this passage in Scripture. John and Andrew testify that Jesus is the one the world has been waiting for. Ancient Israel was already filled with reputable teachers of the law. Devout Jews worth their salt would have been able to discern the difference. After spending a day with him, it was clear to these two men that Jesus was not an ordinary teacher.

In the morning Andrew and John left one teacher for another because they had heard the truth, but by the afternoon they realized this rabbi had seen into their hearts and offered them himself. Only God can do that.

Sister Maria Catherine is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and teaches English at Marin Catholic High School.

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