In John 1, we begin with a mind-blowing, densely theological, poetic prologue (vv.1-18). Then we meet John the Baptist (not to be confused with the author of the present Gospel) whose sole concern is making sure we fix our eyes completely on Jesus. And then we see Jesus begin to gather his disciples. The Gospel of John here in chapter 1 paints a picture of what it looks like to be utterly captivated by the presence of Jesus. Two of John’s own disciples immediately leave him to become Jesus’ disciples, which appears to be exactly what John wants to happen.
So Jesus asks these new followers, “What are you looking for?” What a deceptively complex question. He’s not offering to give them directions. He’s asking what they hope to get out of being in his presence. What are we looking for in Jesus? As our soul reaches out to him, chases after him, what are we hoping will happen when Jesus responds? The two followers answer with a question of their own. “Where are you staying?” What a deceptively complex response! This “staying” (translated elsewhere in the Gospel of John as “abiding” or “dwelling”) is a matter of not just where our bodies reside geographically, but where our hearts and minds abide. Another way of asking their question would be, “Jesus, what would it be like to truly abide in your presence?”
“Come and see,” Jesus answers. There are no easy, straightforward answers with Jesus. If the followers’ question is really worth answering, then they won’t simply receive the answer – they will journey for it. To be a follower of Jesus is to never get the final, definitive answer to all our questions, to never tire of chasing after him, to give up on easy, straightforward answers and instead discover over and over again what his presence will offer if we just keep following.
Now Jesus meets Philip and beckons him as well: “Follow me.” Then Philip invites Nathaniel to become a disciple as well (discipleship spreads like wildfire in John 1), but Nathaniel has some initial skepticism. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The very idea of the savior of the whole world being found in such an unspectacular place is either too absurd to be true or so absurd that it must be true. “Come and see,” Philip responds. In just his short time with Jesus, he’s already learning how to talk like him. Incredibly, Nathaniel accepts this invitation. Something in him is reaching out for a whole new way of understanding God and himself, so he comes to Jesus and Jesus affirms him for coming.
The story ends with a strange word from Jesus about the heavens being opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, but it would have been familiar to Nathaniel and any other Israelite. Genesis 28 tells of Jacob’s vision of a ladder connecting heaven and earth with God’s angels coming and going upon it. But as Jesus paraphrases this story, he mentions no ladder because he himself is now that connection. Jesus himself is where heaven and earth meet. Jesus is how the fullness of God finds its way into the world. To see Jesus is to see God. Above all, that is what Philip and Nathaniel must bear witness to.
We follow Jesus through the pages of John’s Gospel and into new places within our hearts and minds, into new relationships and communities, places we never imagined. And as we follow him, he will continue to ask, “What are you looking for?”
May our answers to this question become prayers. “Jesus, might we find faith and hope and love in your presence?”
The constant answer will be, “Come and see.”