Come and See: A reflection on John 1:29-43 by The Rev. Richard Hasselbach, Ph.D.
In one of his memorable Peanuts comics, Charles Schulz shows Charlie Brown and Linus deep in conversation: "Do you ever think much about the future, Linus?" Charlie asks. "Oh yes, all the time," Linus answers him. Charlie follows up with, "What do you think you would like to be when you grow up?" To which Linus proclaims: "Outrageously happy!"
Isn't that really what we all want? We want to be happy - outrageously happy. The question is: how do we achieve the goal.
The drive for happiness fuels the marketplace. The wizards of Madison Avenue tell us we will be happy if we buy the things that are the stuff of the good life. If we're children, it's the latest toy; if we're teenagers, it's the newest electronic device; if we're heavy, it's to be thin; if we're old, it’s to look young. Buy a car, buy a better one; get a house, get a bigger one. It never ends.
None of this stuff makes us happy, of course; it merely makes us want to buy and have more "stuff" in our endless drive to finally be "outrageously happy."
Happiness is a universal hope—it transcends time and place. Eskimos and Africans all want happy lives. We want to be happy today, as did the citizens of the Roman Empire and the Ming Dynasty. Through all time, humans have searched for that which would finally quench the restlessness of longing.
When John the Baptizer appeared at the Jordan telling the people of Israel that God was about to break into history in a new and powerful way, people from all over the region came to him, to hear his message that "the Kingdom of God has come near," and to take the baptism of repentance that he offered.
The Fourth Gospel makes it clear: John's role was to point to another, to "the one coming after him who was before him." John fulfilled that mission when, as he saw Jesus walk toward him on the Jordan’s banks, he cried out: Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Why call Jesus “the Lamb,” though? Sheep are not particularly appealing animals. Lambs are cute, but sheep are dirty and stupid critters with no means of defense; without the shepherd, they're helpless and vulnerable. Lamb of God is a curious title, until we hear the rest of the phrase. This Lamb is the one who "takes away the sin of the world." Like the Passover lamb, Jesus, thought his suffering and death, would bring life and freedom not only to Israel but to the world.
Two of the Baptizer’s disciples were curious enough, when John pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, to follow him. When Jesus turned and saw them tailing him he speaks his first words in the Fourth Gospel: "What are you seeking?" That must have given them pause to think, as it should give us pause. Why do we follow Jesus? What are we seeking when we become his followers. What do we want from him? Do we expect that, perhaps, he can make us outrageously happy?
John's disciples answered clearly: "Rabbi," they asked, "Where do you live?" The word the Gospel uses for "live" here is rooted in the Greek verb "meno," which means to remain or abide. The disciples are not asking about Jesus’ lodging, they’re asking him what he's all about, what makes him tick. The first step in any disciples’ journey is understanding the nature of the teacher, not only what he teaches, but how he lives and what he accomplishes.
The Lord answers them with a simple invitation: "come and see."
Jesus offers us the same invitation. Come and see.
To come to some place, we must be willing to leave where we are. Jesus invites those two disciples, and us, to leave the familiar, to leave what is safe, and to change: to be someone new! Change is difficult for most people. We get cozy where we are. It may not be the best of situations, but we know it, and we have become comfortable. Jesus invites us away from that familiar comfort.
One of the results of our encounter with Christ is that we must "die to the old person by abandoning our attachments to this world. To come to Jesus we need to leave our petty selves behind: our selfish wants, our pet ideas, our predilections, and our preferences. We have to give up our need to win, or to be right, or to have things go our own way. All this egoism impedes us from coming to the Lord and finding His Holy Spirit at the center of our soul. Only when we let go of our ego-desires can we discover true true happiness found in abandoning our will to His.
Bonhoeffer knew this."When Christ calls a man," he writes, "he bids him come and die." Bonhoeffer lived his discipleship. He was safely in New York in 1939, but, against the urging of his friend in the States, he returned to Germany on the last steamer scheduled for an Atlantic crossing. His place as a pastor, he believed, was with his suffering nation, and that duty was more important to him than life itself, and he would lose his life at the hands of one of Hitler’s executioners less than five years later.
Or hear Dr. King in his final speech. He knew the danger he faced; he knew the problems ahead in the battle for justice. He knew he could lose his life in the cause of pursuing justice, as he would only days later:
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has it's place, but I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." ~ Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
For King, for Bonhoeffer, happiness — true happiness — came from doing God’s will, pursuing justice at all costs.
When we walk with Jesus, we walk in His Light, and it is only in that Light that we can see rightly! The world offers tantalizing pleasures, none of which last; they're all "straw." They fade and fail us unfailingly. The Lord invites us not only to come, but to see.
What did John's disciples "see" when they came to Jesus? They saw that, in the encounter with Jesus, people were transformed. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor."
These are treasures that never fade or fail.
Look around the church; you will see some people whose lives have been profoundly changed by their encounter with Christ! They love when they could be bitter and cynical. They are joyful, even when they struggle with the challenges of age or with financial burdens; they are at peace while the world wars around them; they are patient and kind with one another and with strangers. They are gentle, good, faithful, and caring. In short, they are incredibly happy.
That is the offer of the Lord to each one of us when we "come and see."
When John's disciples encountered Jesus, their lives changed. The Gospel tells us that they "remained" with Jesus that day. Encountering Jesus was the beginning, for them, of a life-giving, life-sustaining relationship; it was more than a visit it changed their lives.
There is one way to find true happiness: follow the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and let him change your life forever. Then you can be what the world can can never make you—outrageously happy.