We have an interesting collision of our daily office lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary this week. Yesterday’s daily office gospel contained most of the gospel for this coming Sunday, both from the first chapter of John’s gospel depicting John the Baptist declaring that Jesus is the Lamb of God without prodding. Then Jesus’s baptism is recounted as having already happened, including the descent of the Spirit and hearing God’s voice. We then see Jesus gathering Andrew and Simon, who had been disciples of John, to become his disciples instead. In today’s daily office gospel covering the next eight verses, Jesus then calls Philip and Nathanael, despite Nathanael’s skepticism that anything good can come out of Nazareth.
It is of course natural that curiosity and even skepticism arises among those who hear Jesus proclaimed as the “Lamb of God” or the “Messiah”—then as much as now. In fact, I think that curiosity and skepticism, and even outright denial about claims such as these, are all something we are entirely used to coming from those around us. To be honest, that skepticism and denial often wells up within us at times too numerous to count.
Yet what struck me as I read and prayed these scriptures for the last week was that the same response was given to the questions and doubts that claims of who Jesus really is inspired. In John 1:29-42, when Andrew and Simon encounter Jesus, they asked where Jesus was staying. “Come and see,” came the seemingly enigmatic reply. Unfortunately, the conversation they have with Jesus where he was staying is not disclosed, but it became clear that by the end of the day, they had become convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Similarly, in John 1:43-51, the next day, Jesus calls Philip as he goes to Galilee, but first Philip approaches Nathanael and exclaims his belief that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Nathanael responds with his famous discounting of Nazareth, to which Philip also urges, “Come and see.”
In this season of Epiphany, we hear story after story of how Jesus’s identity was revealed to successive people, Jew and Gentile alike, and in doing so, reveals who God is, helping to bridge the chasm that prevents ordinary humanity from beginning to perceive the essence of God’s nature. It’s too easy to get caught up in cynicism, across the years and centuries especially.
Too many people are only comfortable with reducing Jesus to merely a historical figure, an ancient wisdom teacher who taught an ethical system based on the golden rule. I suppose that’s better than those who imagine that Jesus is a vengeful referee who hates all the same people we do and can’t wait to chuck them into a hell of unquenchable fire. But not much better. Too many people, self-avowed Christians included, fail to see Jesus anywhere today.
What if we took seriously the idea of the ongoing incarnation of God in human vesture that we sing about in our hymns? Because the Church is called to be the embodiment of that same precious body, that same Anointed One, that the disciples encountered.
As we heard the story of Jesus’s baptism last Sunday, many of us probably reflected upon our own anointing by water and the Spirit in the sacrament of baptism. With that in mind, the call today to “Come and see” to those who do not know God becomes a charge upon faithful people everywhere, especially Christians, to be the living embodiment of Jesus in the world today. In the early Church, “come and see” was a scandal in the milieu of mystery cults that promised the attainment of secret knowledge to the detriment of those around them. The scandal of the gospel was its universalism two millennia ago—and that same universalism remains a scandal today to those who want to erect walls and stiles and barricades between the seeking and the Savior. Embracing that universal call to “come and see” is the essence of Christian life and discipleship, even if we are faltering and imperfect in our attempt.
“Come and see” is not a command for the world to come to us—and that’s not how our peripatetic teacher and Savior, Jesus from no-account Nazareth, operated, either. “Come and see” calls us ourselves to be swept up in the unbounded vista of God’s saving love, for only in embracing the mystery of God’s love can we truly dare to share with others the wonders of grace and truth.
“Come and see” is a charge upon us to go meet people where they are– the poor, the suffering, the overlooked, the downcast, the oppressed, the scorned, the broken and broken-hearted— to love them for who they are whether the calculus of the world judges them worthy or not, and be the healing we long to see in the world. It is standing alongside the despised and the fallen and nonetheless seeing the spark of God’s love in the other as much as we long to believe it resides within us, knowing full well our own failures. It is a call for us to embody the reconciliation, grace, and mercy that Jesus himself embodied—and in embodying those spiritual gifts, Jesus proves that it is possible for us to embody them as well.
“Come and see” is a call that will only resonate when it springs from the joy abundant we feel at knowing we are Beloved of God, and rather than try to hoard that knowledge to ourselves, to share it with those the world despises so that they too, can join us in rejoicing and renewal. It is a call to a path that never claims that the ends justify the means, but holds that the path itself is holy—and calls us from being mere fans to being actual disciples.
When we live into the relationships that Jesus calls us to embrace with both God and with all creation, we are transformed. We make room within our hearts for the inner light and wisdom of the folly of the gospel of Jesus, one that denies that there must be winners and losers as much of the world’s systems demand. It is embracing the paradox and the gift of God coming into time as a helpless infant, and of the greatest becoming the least, all for love beyond all of our own fearful limitations.
“Come and see” reminds us that the only way love grows is by sharing it with others by not seeking to exclude those different from us but by drawing the circle ever wider until all are drawn within the enclosure of God’s mercy. It is a reminder that God’s love is not a transaction, but a gift and a grace beyond our ken.
It is that embodiment which the incarnation calls us to today. We have to give people something to see, after all, when we call them to come and see.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.