The Lamb of God, Pietro Bernini
John 1:35-42, 1 Sam 3:3-19
It’s a real gift to reflect on these texts from the gospel of John during the year. What we hear today, marks the first appearance of Jesus in the gospel of John. Till now, we have been given the narrator’s view followed by the Baptist’s testimony. Now, through the eyes of the first disciples, we get a glimpse of Jesus for ourselves. I would like to reflect on four acts, four movements if you may, in this account.
“Behold the Lamb of God”
John points to Jesus as he approaches. His proclamation about Jesus emerges from his contemplation of Christ – ‘he gazed intently at Jesus’. The words are brief, with little explanation. Not much can be explained in a movement of love. What it means will be revealed only at the end of the gospel. His young disciples listen to this and immediately leave everything and start to follow Jesus.
I want to take a moment here to speak about the act of listening. How is it that they respond so quickly, with no hesitation? Their response is analogous to Our Lady’s response to Gabriel. There is no hindrance to the unfolding of the Word in her. Her immaculate conception means that there is nothing of the stubbornness of sin in her will. But the disciples of the Baptist respond similarly. Maybe they had already spoken to John about this. We are not told. But they hear God’s call, through the Baptist – and with very little, they are prepared to make a fundamental shift in their life, take a leap of faith, a risk. They do not ask for a guarantee of success. I would like to suggest that it is their internship, their discipleship with John which has prepared them for it. For those not born sinless, our hearts need to be trained to hear God’s voice. This was the whole purpose of John’s ministry. To help people hear the voice of the Spirit. It was for this reason that he himself became nothing more than a voice. The voice has no other purpose than to point to the Word.
This is not simply John’s ministry. It is the vocation of every Christian family. Parents, you know you have fulfilled your vocation when your children know how to listen to God’s voice. That they are ready when God calls them – and call them he will! Sometime back, the UK Office for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, ran an ad campaign. They posted ads on the tube and other places which showed a black and white image of a man in a dog collar, with the caption –“Get collared for the challenge of a lifetime”. My parish priest at the time was completely perplexed when he saw it. “How can you expect a call for something like the priesthood to arise in a complete vacuum?” It comes within a Christian community, where someone has learnt to recognise the voice of God. That is what we see in the first reading, about Samuel. He hears God but cannot understand it till Eli shows him how to respond. And the first Christian community is the family. Children have a great ability to be tuned to God’s voice. But they need to be told – and even more importantly shown, that God can and will speak to them. If children see their parents pray, they will pray. This is nothing to do with forcing them to pray or learn prayers by rote. It is an act of love. When the children pick up their parents love God, they will love God. The disciples of the Baptist follow immediately, without hesitation, because they have learned to wait and love, from the waiting of the Baptist. They have not encountered Jesus themselves. But the immediacy of their response comes from their waiting. From their formation.
This is the goal of formation, of Catholic education. It is to open one’s heart to truth. In all our learning, we are seeking Christ because, finally, the Truth is Christ himself. If we acquire several doctorates and worldly fame but it we end up closed in on ourselves and unable to perceive the Truth, our education has served precisely the opposite purpose.
“What do you seek?” Your face O Lord I seek, hide not your face (Ps 27:8)
Everything happens in silence. The disciples follow, having heard for themselves, and seen a first glance. Now they want to know more, to go deeper. They follow in silence, without disturbing the one who goes before them. They wait till he takes the initiative. There is a humility in following, which is wholly appropriate. They do not wish to appropriate, or control or wrest for themselves, what can only come as gift.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus would tell you if you saw him face-to-face? We all have our ideas about God, our images of God. What would God tell you? Would God tell you off for something you did? Give you a lecture on how to become holy and how you are falling short? Will he read out the law? The first time the disciples meet Jesus – the first sentence Jesus speaks in the gospels, surprisingly, is a question. It is said that a friend is one who asks you how you are, and actually waits to find out the reply. A lot of people came to Jesus. And he would usually ask them a question. What do you seek? What do you desire? What can I do for you? It’s a question asked with simple sincerity. This is God, in his humility, standing before you. There are no right answers. He wants to know what’s in your heart.
What does he say to you when he comes in the Eucharist? Have you asked him? This is prayer. Why don’t you sit down today, in your prayer, and let him come to you – and see what he says?