2 Epiphany – January 15, 2023
John 1:29-42

         Our gospel lesson today makes some striking claims about who Jesus is and how his disciples, and therefore us, can relate to him. The first question Jesus asks in John’s gospel is “What are you looking for?”.  And then he invites his new disciples into relationship with him. He invites them to follow him further to find what they are looking for.  “Come and see” he says.

Looking.  Seeing.  Finding.  Our reading revolves around these actions.  The Gospel opens as John the Baptist sees, testifies, and humbly allows his disciples to leave so that they can follow Jesus.  Jesus then invites those same disciples to keep looking – “come and see” he says.  But first he asks them a zinger of a question about seeing, a question we would do well to ask ourselves: “What are you looking for?”

What are you looking for?  Imagine Jesus asking you that question right now. If you’re like me, you’re not quite sure how to answer that.  As you say goodbye to an old year and welcome a new one, what are you hoping for, asking for, looking for, in your spiritual life?  Do you know?

It seems like the disciples dodged the question. They responded with a question of their own “Where are staying?” Jesus’s response?   A little maddening, right?  “Come and see.”  Which is to say: we have to follow Jesus all the way home if we want to know where he is and what he’s about.  As Debi shares: “He won’t be pinned down.  He won’t fit into any box we try to stick him in.  He’s not the type who remains in stasis — he moves.  At times, he will not be easy to seek or find.  In short: the path that leads to Jesus will become clear only when we decide to walk it.  Hence the question we must ask ourselves at every turn: what are we looking for?  Jesus?  Or something else?”

Looking.  Seeing.  Finding.  These are the things we are called to do, not once, but over and over again as Christians. And I share more profound words about this from Debi Thomas: “This is the heart of discipleship – not to hasten the end of our search, but to pursue it ever more deeply and intentionally.  To cultivate a willingness to look.  A willingness to see and be seen.  A willingness to tell the truth about what we have found.  A willingness to venture forth again, even when we don’t know where “home” is.

The invitation to “come and see” is an invitation to leave our comfortable vantage points, and dare to believe that just maybe, we have been limited and wrong in our certainties about each other, about God, and about the world.  To “come and see” is to approach all of life with a grace-filled curiosity, to believe that we are holy mysteries to each other, worthy of further exploration.  To come and see is to enter into the joy of being deeply seen and deeply known, and to have the very best that lies hidden within us called out and called forth.

Today’s Gospel story is not just about our seeing; at its core it is about what Jesus sees.  It’s a story about Jesus’s way of looking, and about what becomes possible when we dare to experience his gaze.  Jesus looks at John’s disciples, and calls forth their hunger, their curiosity, their hope, and their trust.  He looks at Simon and sees Peter, the Rock.  He looks at us and sees what lies beneath the fumbling, the fear, the mixed motives, and the doubts.

Each of us, in other words, benefits from a second look, and a third, and a fourth.  To offer that second look, that deeper, kinder, and more penetrating look, is grace.  It is the gracious vision of Jesus, and it is the vision we are called to practice in a world that too often judges and condemns at first glance.

Is there anything, that feels lonelier than the experience of being unseen, misunderstood, and prematurely dismissed?  And is there anything more life-giving than the experience of being seen for who we really are, deep down beneath the fragile defenses we hold up out of fear?

What are you looking for?  What are you looking for when you approach the people around you?  Is your seeing fear-filled and narrow?  Or is it spacious and brave?  Are you looking to judge or looking to bless?

The thing is, only when we have been seen in the profoundly healing way of Jesus will we find ourselves able to see others as the beloveds of God.  It is when we have been loved right down to the core of who we are that we find the capacity to embrace other people as Jesus embraced every disciple, every sinner, every doubter, and every believer who crossed his path.  May we look as he looks.  May we want what he wants.  And may we ever seek the One who always and everywhere seeks us.