Jesus said to two men, upon first seeing them, “What do you want?” They responded, "Where are you staying?" He said, "Come and see."
What an odd conversation. What a strange way for John to introduce us to the Word, the light, the Lord, the Lamb of God...made flesh.
“What do you want?” Jesus asks. “Where are you staying?” they respond. Jesus says, “Come and see.”
We know that questions are rarely mere inquiries for information. Questions exist in a social context, and the responses carry a kind of weight. Upon being introduced to someone we ask: where are you from? And whether the answer is Seattle or South Sudan, we believe we’ve learned something about this person’s identity and social context. By knowing where they’re from, we know a piece of who they are.
We ask, in introductory small talk: what do you do? Anyone who has ever been unemployed knows that the answer to this question matters-- knows that the answer will be taken as a reflection of identity. The phrasing of the response is often explicitly tied to identity: I say, “I am a student” rather than “For a few hours a day, on most days of the week, I’m learning in a classroom setting.” Attaching our identity to our work often suits our desires, giving us an opportunity to tell our own understanding of our selves. And we’re also comfortable with receiving such responses: it allows us to place our associations of that work upon this individual, to know something of their daily life, and gives us some clues as to how to interact with them.
Two men approach Jesus and he says to them, “What do you want?” and they ask him, “Where are you staying?”
It matters how the question is answered.
Some of you know that I recently moved. The way I described the location of my previous home was that I lived on the Queen Anne side of the Fremont Bridge. And I knew exactly what I was doing with that answer, what I was trying to convey: I’m cool and creative enough to like Fremont, but I’m also adult and established enough to live on Queen Anne hill.
My new home feels just as cumbersome to describe. I live in Discovery Park. I emphasize it like that. I don’t want to say that I live in Magnolia, because that has certain connotations about stage of life that I’m just not ready for. So I say, I live in Discovery Park. If someone is familiar with it, I’ll explain that the old military housing just became available for public rent, and I know my social status is sky high: I’m on the first edge of something; there’s a uniqueness to it as well as a historical-vintage component; I get to claim both woods life and city life with one address, and one complex answer to a weighty question.
“Where are you staying?” ask the men, and Jesus, of course, doesn’t do any of the verbal sidestepping that you or I do when faced with such a question.
He doesn’t say “I’ve got this awesome penthouse right by the River Jordan...,” doesn’t claim any status.
He also doesn’t respond, as we might think he would, “Oh, I’m not staying anywhere, I’m free from such desires and luxury.” What really strikes me is that, when meeting two strangers, he doesn’t hold them at a distance; I might hesitate to give out my address to some guys who were following me around, and Jesus does just the opposite when confronted with the question, “Where are you staying?”
No, Jesus doesn’t answer in the ways we might.
Instead, Jesus does something more…vulnerable, more humble, more invitational-- He responds, “come and see.” Rather than describing the place for the disciples (and thus forming the way they understand his identity), he invites them into his life to observe and experience and draw their own conclusions.
As I think about this moment when the two men in our Gospel story heard the invitation, I try to imagine what they must have felt. ----- They have just asked a question in an attempt to feel out who Jesus is, this man they’ve heard said is the Lamb of God, but they don’t know him. And instead of getting a safe, standard, neatly packaged answer that they know what to do with, they get an invitation into something new and unfamiliar, something unknown.
He asks them to follow him -- they don’t know where. He asks them to follow without knowledge of any details of what they’ll find or discuss or do. He asks them to take a risk, to be vulnerable, to take a step towards him.
As I think of it, our own lives are full of invitations just like this, invitations in which we are not given many details up-front, invitations that ask us to risk, to be vulnerable, to confront our fears.
Some such invitations are vocational: enrolling in a school, accepting a promotion, or a shift in work responsibilities. Some invitations are relational: an invitation to coffee, a first date, a marriage proposal, a pregnancy, or the news that a relationship we had relied on is different than we had thought. These invitations can be geographic: moving houses, countries, cultures, or when someone we love moves away.
Whatever the content of the invitation, in all invitations we are asked to inhabit the uncertainty even as we “come and see” what’s next.
Our time of transition in this parish is also an invitation, an opportunity for us to risk saying ‘yes’. As Mother Melissa moves into her invitation to become bishop, we are first invited to grieve the loss of her presence here with us. We are invited to risk being vulnerable as we go through this transition, to confront our fears of an uncertain future.
On the other side of this, we, as a parish, are offered an opportunity to risk a ‘yes’ to whatever might be next. We are invited to “come and see” what opportunities await as we discover them, without much certainty of what will be.
In our Gospel reading today, I find offered one piece of certainty; the extension of one reassurance in the middle of the anxiety and paralysis that can accompany such invitations. Our Gospel offers us the comfort that a thread of holy companionship and connection is guiding us. It is Jesus himself, God made flesh, who walks before and with the men in our Gospel text, who guides them to an unfamiliar place and an unfamiliar way of being, guides them to a place that Jesus knows intimately.
It is Jesus himself, we can imagine, who extends his hand towards them, his gesture inviting and emboldening them to follow rather than draw back and run away. It is Jesus himself whose very way of relationship with the world and with others is the thing they will see once they arrive at where he “stays.”
And so. When you and I stand at the threshold of what just might be an invitation full of promise that also provokes our hesitations and fears, we can know --- we are not alone. Beside us, with full knowledge of what is ahead, is the Holy One of God, whose way of living is to live with us and to empower us to accept the invitation of our own life again and again and again.
So come and see.
The Holy One of God is inviting you.
The Holy One of God is beckoning to you.
The Holy One of God is beside you.
Come and see.