Saturday, January 19, 2008
The Courage to Grow
Today’s Gospel is a quietly challenging text. In it, we hear that two disciples of St. John the Baptist overhear John naming Jesus as the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice will take away “the sin of the world.” This starts the disciples on the road of inquiry. Who exactly is this Jesus? How is he the “Lamb of God?” The biblical text takes but a few lines, but it is entirely possible that these hitherto devoted disciples of John had to do some serious soul-searching and courage-raising before they could ask Jesus about himself.
At first, the best they could do was to follow behind Jesus, apparently silently (and perhaps a bit sheepishly). Finally, Jesus turns to them and says: “What are you looking for?” And this really begins the great adventure. Jesus takes the initiative here, as he truly does in all authentic discipleship. When we forget this and come to think of our following Jesus as something we control or even start, then we have ceased to worship God and are looking instead into a mirror.
But, this story has much more to offer us. The two disciples in question were first disciples of John, not Jesus. We don’t know exactly how many disciples John had, but from what the Gospel tells us elsewhere, it was likely there were a considerable number. How many of them understood that his was a ministry of being a forerunner, we cannot be sure. Perhaps many were not even able to understand that John was “not that light,” as the Gospel tells us, but “bore witness to that light…that was coming into the world.” The point is that John was clear about his ministry: he came to prepare the way for the Christ. Yet, it must have been difficult for others who had become disciples of John to grow beyond him, to accept the full dimensions of his purpose and ministry.
These two disciples were amongst the first people who had to look at Jesus as a challenge to grow in their faith and understanding. Too often Christians act as if they can somehow “graduate” from growing in faith – as if there is a time when following Jesus leads us to a point of assurance requiring no deeper love, no richer comprehension. This is surely a kind of heresy. We who follow Christ need always be ready to answer the Lord’s question again: “What are you seeking?” And we must do so with fresh words, a new level of eagerness.
We are not told what transpired when these two disciples stayed with Jesus. It is a matter on which some speculate; but for us, let it be a reminder that the path to full discipleship includes chapters that are essentially incommunicable to others. All we are told is that one of those disciples – St. Andrew – came out of his encounter with Christ a transformed man, ready to share his experience of the Good News with his brother, thereby brining the future leader of the Apostles before his Lord and Master.
All of this could happen because these two disciples were not first and foremost disciples of John: they were seekers after the Truth, lovers of God, and unsatisfied with anything less. They did not confuse faith with stubbornness or rigidity. They had the courage to grow as they were called by God; they set the pattern for all of us, all our churches, all our ministries. Only if we are like they were will the message we bear be worth hearing…because it will not be our own message, but God’s.