The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’ 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!’ 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?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 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. 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). 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). [The full readings for today can be found here.]
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’
In the name of the Living God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
It’s an interesting choice, this passage that the Church has given us for the feast of St. Dominic. It’s an interesting choice, the choice that Andrew and Simon Peter made, to follow this wandering rabbi named Jesus. And it’s an interesting choice, the choice that Andee, Jason, Rosie, Wesley, Patti, Travis, Craig and Rafael are about to make. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, one of the few things that all four gospels agree upon was that John baptized Jesus. And in each Gospel, it’s a dramatic event. In Mark’s Gospel, the heavens are riven apart. In Matthew and Luke, we hear the very voice of God calling Jesus the beloved. But in John’s gospel, we get a kind of second-hand report, a report from John the Baptist, who says that he saw the Spirit coming down like a dove. And that Spirit announces that Jesus will baptize, not with a baptism of repentance and forgiveness like the Baptist, but with the Holy Spirit. And John then announces that Jesus is the Son of God.
I want to pick up this story on the next day, however. The next day, John was standing with two of his disciples and as Jesus walks by, John shouts, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” John hearkens back, perhaps to the story of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac, or perhaps to the Passover lamb, with an insight into the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ ministry. It’s an early hint that following Jesus might not lead us down an easy road. As St. Thomas More said, “No one gets to heaven on a featherbed.” And yet, these brothers and sisters here with us today have chosen to follow Jesus, in the path of St. Dominic. It’s an interesting choice.
Then, the following day, John repeats his curious announcement and Andrew and another of John’s disciples begin following Jesus. The text has always left me wondering: what was it about Jesus that was so compelling? One of the giants of Anglican theology, Archbishop William Temple once observed, “We are Christians because we have been taught; and those who taught us were taught themselves.” But Andrew knew so little when he began following Jesus. My sense is that these two disciples had a profound hunger, a deep thirst to drink from the living water of the logos, the Word made flesh.
In John’s gospel, we meet a number of people who have this longing: Andrew, Nathaniel, Nicodemus, Thomas and the beloved disciple. Each of these are looking for the Truth, the veritas, the divine logos walking among us. They have the same spiritual hunger that we have all seen in these brothers and sisters who are about to take their vows this evening. And when one is full of that kind of passionate longing, nothing short of the Truth will do.
In our world, millions of people are looking for the truth. They look for it in wealth, in politics, on the television, on the internet, in dark conspiracies, in songs and books and art. We live in a nervous, anxious age. As St. Augustine observed, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are forever restless until they rest in You.” And while we may find hints of truth in art, or science, or music, the real Truth most of us are looking for isn’t an idea or a scientific discipline or a bit wisdom: it’s a person. It’s a person who asks us, just as he asked Andrew: “What are you looking for?”
So, when these two disciples begin following Jesus, the first thing he asks them is “What are you looking for?” What are you looking for? It’s a profound question. And it’s almost exactly the same ancient question Dominicans have been asking those about to make their vows for a very long time: What do you seek? What are you looking for?
As the gospel passage progresses, these two disciples ask Jesus, “Where are your staying?” The translation falls a bit short. In the Greek, the word is basically “abide,” the same word Jesus uses when he tells the disciples: “Abide in me.” It carries with it the connotations of “Where do you remain, where is your home where do you abide, where is your center?” And Jesus tells them, “Come and see.” He doesn’t give them directions, he tells them, “You have to follow me to understand.”
There’s a rich sense in which we cannot understand the heart of Christianity at all until we begin to follow Jesus. There’s a real sense in which the Christian life, the practice of abiding with Jesus, cannot be understood or explained—it has to be lived.
And then Andrew, well Andrew does something remarkable. He runs and tells his brother about Jesus, certain that he’s found the Messiah. So, I suppose in that sense Andrew may be the first Dominican. You see, he does what we Dominicans have been doing for years: he brings the world to Christ.
And when Jesus meets Simon, he gives him a new name. He tells him that rather than Simon, he will be called Cephas, or Peter. Again, there’s an old tradition in the religious orders of the brothers and sisters taking a new name. (I wanted to do that, but the Master at the time wouldn’t agree to call me Brother Batman.) Now, this tradition of taking on a new name makes sense, because our vows in the religious life are simply a continuation of the baptismal promises, and our baptism calls for us to be named.
But Peter isn’t only one who gets a new name: Jesus is called the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and the Messiah. This renaming tells us something very significant. In Christ, we are made (as Peter was made) a new creation. This is a story about new beginnings—a new beginning for Jesus, and a new beginning for Andrew and Peter, who decide to follow him. It’s an interesting choice.
James R. Dennis, O.P. © 2018