So, here we are in the season of Epiphany. The stories we hear about Jesus, if you’re following the season, are about revealing who Jesus is and what he’s about. One of those is how Jesus acquires the first disciples.
I feel the need to say “acquires” because, while we’re so familiar with the story of Jesus calling the disciples from their boats to come and follow him and “fish for people,” that’s not how John tells it.
John, the writer, tells a story about John the Baptist or, as we should know him from his more important job, John the Announcer. The Announcer, says the writer, has just finished explaining that’s his job: he’s not the promised one, he’s to herald the arrival of the promised one. The next day, he sees Jesus and he says “that’s the one I’m talking about.” And he says he knows that because God told him that the Holy Spirit would appear as a dove with “the one” and he saw that happen. He has a first hand experience of Jesus.
The next day, he sees Jesus again and this time he tells two of his followers “that’s the one I’m talking about.” So they go to check out Jesus, Jesus sees them following him around and asks them “what are you looking for?” They ask Jesus where he’s staying and he says “come and see.” Now it’s their turn to have a first hand experience of Jesus.
In hardly any time at all, of course, they’re sharing their experience of Jesus with others and inviting them to come and see, too.
I think I like this interactive “call” story more than the fishermen story. There, it seems like Jesus charismatically commands we follow, here it seems like he gently invites us in to see what we might find in him. It’s good we have both, though, because an important piece of the Jesus story is that we all come our own way, in our own time, from our own lives, looking for our own meaning.
Churches and faith communities might also want to wonder about that. Sometimes, I think we’re really quick to share what we believe with a sense of command, wondering why everyone isn’t drawn to Jesus like we are. We might even judge accordingly those who aren’t. We might welcome everyone, but that’s a welcome to be one of us, to fit in and be just like us, and to meet our predetermined community behaviour. “Come and see” then becomes “be one of us.”
But that’s not what Jesus means, that’s why it’s not the first thing he says. “What are you looking for?” What do you need, what can I do for you, how can I help you – tell me your story. Those are the words that I think began every one of Jesus’ interactions with people. When we hear about Jesus healing the broken, reaching out to the marginalized, talking to all “the wrong people,” I think that’s how he began the conversation: “what are you looking for?”
We could do that, too. We could welcome people by affirming who they are and asking what they’re looking for. Then we could offer not only what we already have, but our openness to what they bring – questions and needs as well as gifts – and invite them to come and see how all that might go together with the love and grace that Jesus brings. That’s what creates a community in which we all learn and grow.