January 19, 2020
One of my favorite cartoons is Peanuts; both when I was a kid and as an adult. It was a favorite then, and it is a favorite now. This week one of the many classic strips that Charles Schultz created has been rolling around in my mind. The strip begins with Charlie Brown, Linus and one of the secondary characters, a little girl with very curly hair – maybe it was Frieda – standing together. The little girl with the curly hair is jumping rope, and as she jumps, she commands Charlie Brown to look at her… actually, she commands him to “lookit.”
“Lookit, Charlie Brown!”
She continues to pester Charlie Brown to lookit her.
“Lookit, Charlie Brown! Lookit me jumping rope.”
While she is busy jumping and demanding Charlie Brown to “lookit,” the second cell of the cartoon shows Charlie and Linus standing together. It’s clear that Linus is trying to tell Charlie something. But the little girl keeps yelling,
“Lookit! Lookit! Lookit!”
Finally, Charlie Brown in exasperation responds. She wants him to “lookit, lookit, lookit,” and he says,
The strip ends with Linus standing by himself saying,
I used to say, “lookit,” when I was a kid. Maybe I still say it now and don’t even realize it. I would get really excited about something, and just like the curly haired girl from Peanuts, I would want my mom and my dad to, “lookit! Lookit! Lookit!”
If John the Baptizer had said, “Lookit!” instead of just “Look!” I would have understood. He must have felt excitement, overwhelming awe, and even sheer joy when he saw Jesus walk by.
“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
“Lookit! Here is Jesus, the Lamb of God, the One who is God in the flesh. Lookit!”
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, John’s gospel does not use the word lookit to convey the baptizer’s excitement and thrill at seeing Jesus, but John’s gospel always manages to surprise me in its distinct differences from the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels all record Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. But John’s gospel does not give us a depiction of that event. Instead we read the baptizer’s testimony that it happened, and we read his testimony to Jesus and to his identity.
If we were to read this chapter in full, we’d see that it takes place over a few days. Our part of the passage starts on the second day. John sees Jesus coming toward him and declares,
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
The day before John was questioned by religious leaders who wanted to know who he, John, was. They wanted to know the full scope of John’s identity. But John tells them about not about himself but another one. John tells them that he is not the Messiah, but there is one who is the Messiah, the One, they’ve been waiting for.
Knowing a little more about what happens on the first day explains more fully John’s remarks on this second day. John says,
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Then he continues saying, this is the one I was telling you about yesterday. He may be coming after me, but he ranks far ahead of me. I didn’t know him, but this is why I’ve been baptizing. He is the reason. When I baptized him, I saw the Spirit descend on him and remain there. The one who told me to baptize told me that this is how I would recognize the Messiah. This is the Son of God.
We move to the third day. This day John is standing with two of his disciples. Jesus walks by, and as he does, John proclaims,
“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
When John’s two disciples hear this, they leave John to follow Jesus. That was their answer to John’s, “Look.”
This is the heart of this passage. Jesus sees them following him, and he asks them,
“What are you looking for?”
They call him “Rabbi,” “Teacher.” And for a moment and a meeting like this, they ask him what seems to be an unexpected and strange question.
“Where are you staying?”
Jesus responds not by giving them directions or details about the cozy AirB&B he’s found. He just says,
“Come and see.”
From that point on, he leads them. They are looking and he wants to show them what they are really looking for.
What we need to understand about John’s gospel is that it is a gospel of layers. To read it only at surface level misses the mark, because it is like an onion. You peel one layer back and there are more layers. John’s gospel is a gospel of layers of meaning. When John’s disciples ask Jesus “where are you staying?” they’re not just asking him about his place of residence. They want to know about his relationship with God. It’s almost as if they’re saying to Jesus,
“John told us to look at you. John told us to look, because here is the Lamb of God, so we want to know for ourselves. If you are indeed the Lamb of God, the rabbi, the teacher we’ve been looking for, then what is your relationship to God? Are you in intimate relationship with him? Are you abiding with God? Are you staying with God? We are looking at you, so Teacher, where are you staying?”
This is John’s version of the call of the disciples. We will read Matthew’s version next week. In the other gospels, Jesus goes to his earliest disciples and calls them away from their work, their previous lives, even their families. He gives them a hint as to what they will do as disciples. But in this narrative, the first disciples hear John’s testimony and follow. When Jesus asks them about this, their response is to ask a question about his relationship to God. Jesus doesn’t give them definitive answers. He just invites them to come and see.
Come and see. Discipleship is something that you will have to experience for yourself. You will have to follow me to witness and know my relationship with the Father. You will have to follow me to experience who I am and what I have come to do. If you want to be a disciple, you will have to follow me and experience it for yourselves. If you want to be a disciple, you must come and see.
So that’s what these new disciples did. John’s witness has done what it was meant to do. His exclamation to, “Look!” has pointed them in the new direction God is taking. They leave John and follow Jesus. They go and see. Then they go and tell others to look! At the end of the passage we have before us today, Andrew tells his brother Simon,
“We have found the Messiah.”
And if we were to keep reading till the end of the chapter, we would also learn that Philip and Nathanael join Jesus as well. They heed the Look! They answer the call to come and see. They follow him so that they can witness and experience for themselves who this man is, this Lamb of God.
Look! There is the Lamb of God. There he is. And when we look, he invites us to come and see; see what this means for you. See for yourselves what discipleship is. His invitation to come and see invites people to experience him and understand him in the way they need the most.
Today and tomorrow, many of us will observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Today as I picture Jesus extending his hand to the disciples with the invitation to come and see, I can’t help but think of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. The power of that speech comes not only from his substantive message and his call for justice, but for the picture he paints with his words. Look! There is the America we want, the America we need. Look! Can you see it? Come and see.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
Come and see.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Come and see.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
Come and see.
The picture that Dr. King painted with his words was not just of a better America; it was a small glimpse of what the Kingdom of God might be. People of every kind coming to the table together, working together, welcoming one another, abiding with one another. When Jesus invited the disciples to “come and see,” it wasn’t just to sample discipleship. It wasn’t an invitation to a Meet and Greet with God. Jesus invited the disciples to come and see for themselves the incarnate love of God. Come and see the Lamb of God, come to save them. Come and see that with the coming of Jesus, comes God’s kingdom. As Jesus invited them, so he invites us. Let us experience for ourselves God’s love and true power. Let us experience for ourselves the glorious and new thing God is doing right here in our midst. Come and see the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Look! Here is the Lamb of God. Come and see.
Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.