St John the Evangelist, Carlo Dolci
John 1:35-42, 1 Sam 3:3-19
We spoke of the first two movements in the last account of the disciples encountering Jesus for the first time. The disciples of the Baptist here his witness and start following Jesus immediately. He turns, and asks them what it is that they seek.
“Where do you dwell?”
What a strange response. One might have expected the disciples to ask him all kinds of things – who are you? What did John mean when he say, you are the lamb of God? Are you the Messiah? Even, will you take us as your disciples, given that John said you are the one to come? But no, they go straight to the heart. Where do you dwell? It is an audacious opening. Most Eastern cultures – Asia, Africa, especially the Middle East, are very hospitable. But even for such as these, this is bold. It is a boldness that is borne out of the authority of love.
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Ps 27:4)
At the end of the Trojan War, Menelaus, the slighted husband comes face to face with Helen, the woman who betrayed him. His wrath, which has caused the downfall of empires and the gods however, melts away in an instant, as he once more gazes on her beauty. His sword falls to the ground as he simply asks that she come home with him. It’s a scene which captures the power of beauty to move the soul and to change someone. Beauty is the visible aspect of Truth and Goodness. When cut off from truth, beauty becomes seductive and deceiving. Similarly, one who is not committed to the search for truth will not be able to discern what is truly beautiful. Their apprenticeship under John, their silent following behind Jesus all has prepared them for this moment. In the presence of the One who is Beauty itself, all other questions fade away. Could they see his dwelling? This is the heart of prayer. A movement of the heart. Love, which seeks union.
“Come and See”
So little said, yet, so much expressed. This is a movement of love, of friendship. Heart that speaks to Heart, as John Henry Newman used to say. Friendship is a mysterious thing. Contrary to the popular adage, ‘we choose our friends, not our families’, true friendship happens quite mysteriously. It is a gift from above. You do not interview someone to find a friend. Tell me everything about you, so I can determine if you will make a good friend. Being a friend is not going for a job. There are no contracts, no impositions. One reveals themselves slowly, as they see fit, in their own time. But the other is prepared to wait, because they already sense something of the movement of love between them. It can only be revealed in that silence, in that time where one spends with another. It cannot be forced. The disciples already understand something far more than maybe, even they realise. They ask no questions. Only to spend more time with the Lord. To abide with him.
“We have found the Messiah” He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High…(Ps 91:1)
Having spent the day with Jesus, they immediately go and find others to tell them the good news they themselves have not just heard but experienced. We have found the Messiah. How did Andrew know that this was the Messiah? We are not told what happened in that evening they spent with Jesus. It is a secret, a secret that is as unique to Andrew and to the other disciple, as it is to you and me. This is a secret that is revealed only in friendship, because the Lord’s relationship to each one is unique. When you have friends, true friends, you treasure each of them. You don’t compare one to the other and rank them. They are all unique and each a gift. It is this personal relationship, which is at the heart of Christianity. This is at the heart of faith, leading to love. Till now, there has hardly been anything spoken by the disciples, except to ask to be invited by Jesus. But now, having spent that time in silence, with the one who himself is the Word, they speak. Andrew’s recounting is not parroting what the Baptist said. He has found Jesus for himself. This is now his testimony. “I believed and so I spoke” (1 Cor 4:13). One cannot speak without believing first and foremost.
Have you invited anyone to come to know Jesus? Why not? As Catholics, for some reason, we are never challenged or invited to evangelise. This is something our Protestant brothers and sisters do extremely well – at least, a lot better than us. But this is the first and primary way that Christ is made known to people. And it is in making known what we have, that we deepen our own faith. Andrew talks about Jesus to his brother – someone in his family. Philip – whom we didn’t read about, will do so with Nathanael, who would be from his town, Bethsaida. Nathanael wouldn’t want to accept Philip’s words. But Philip knows it’s not his problem to convince him. Come and see. He repeats the same invitation to him. Jesus takes care of the rest. This is a matter of learning and practice as much a matter of spontaneity. Would we ever think of mentioning going to Church, when someone asks about our weekend at work? We are not called to answer every question people have. But when people see that this is something real in our experience, will want to find out for themselves. But for that, we need to have made that journey of coming and seeing, for ourselves. Without that there is nothing one can say which Google cannot give already.
He was not the light, only a witness to the light.
In this entire encounter, there is one character who has remained completely silent. He is not even identified by name, but only as the ‘other disciple’. Tradition has identified him as the Evangelist, St John, who in other scenes, once again, refers to himself only as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’. At the end of the gospel, having dwelt with Jesus all along, the disciple has disappeared. Or has he? Like his Master, he has become one with the Light, and thus, the light himself. Light helps us see. We do not come into a room and celebrate how wonderful the lights are. We rejoice in what we see, because of the light. We become aware of the lights only in their absence. All the gospels are unique creations, even the Synoptics. One has to only scratch the surface to reveal their uniqueness. Even so, a first glance at John shows how it stands out among the rest. The evangelist has no need to speak of himself. Yet, he is present, and shines the light in his own unique way. His glory comes simply from being the light which enables others to see Jesus. This is the goal of love, to be united with the One who is Love itself. John’s testimony, his gospel, shows from the beginning, that this journey is true, is possible and is the birth right of every baptised Christian. This is the invitation of today’s gospel. Come, and see.