At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist pointed him out to two of his disciples. Jesus turned to them and asked, “What are you looking for?”
They said, “Where are you staying?” and Jesus replied, “Come, and you will see.”
During Holy Week I found myself reflecting on one brief section in the Passion according to John which echoes that early encounter.
When Judas arrived at the garden with soldiers armed with lanterns and weapons, Jesus went out to greet them. (see John 18:4-8)
“Whom are you looking for?” he asked. When they answered, “Jesus the Nazorean,” he responded, “I AM.” John the Evangelist is clear that Jesus did not say, “I am Jesus the Nazorean” — rather, he said, “I AM,” God’s own name which he revealed to Moses at the burning bush. (see Exodus 3:14)
Easter is the proper time to let Jesus look us straight in the eye and say, “What are you looking for? Whom are you looking for?”
Such questions strike at the heart, because they presuppose we are looking, that we are yearning, that we are reaching for something beyond ourselves. We are always doing just that, whether we realize it or not.
Who among us has not felt an interior longing, a longing we could not identify or understand, one that simply would not go away? Who among us could deny that at times we have just “gone looking” for nothing in particular, only to bump into the wrong things? Perhaps those wrong things frightened us — or worse, perhaps they did not. Who among us could deny that at times we have foolishly assumed that our yearning could be fulfilled by something that was not good for us?
Who of us has not gone looking for God, hoping that he was also looking for us?
“What are you looking for? Whom are you looking for?” Jesus asks. Whether or not we can put our finger on the answer, whether we have even figured out what we are looking for, Jesus’ simple response to John’s disciples is truly the answer for us all: “Come, and you will see.”
Following after him will first awaken in us the deeper questions, the right questions. It will then uncover for us the wrong paths we have sometimes taken, to our embarrassment and shame. Most of all, following him will lead us to deeper faith. “Come, and you will see.”
What did those who followed him — not those who were casual bystanders, but those who really followed him — end up seeing? They saw Jesus set people free.
They saw Jesus set sinners free from the wrong path, from guilt and shame. They saw him set the sick free from their illnesses and their banishment from normal life. They saw him set the angry free from their seething paralysis, the blind from their blindness, the hopeless from their despair, the prideful and self-possessed from their smugness. They saw regular folks — folks with no particular axe to grind, folks just trying to be good — discover the true path to happiness. They saw Jesus show another way, an alternative to the world’s way of power and force, the way of love. They saw him set the dead free from death and bring them back to life.
But how did Jesus bring such freedom to those who went looking for him? The answer is in his passion and death. John the Evangelist tells us that in the garden when Jesus asked Judas and his companions again whom they were looking for, they responded as they had before, “Jesus the Nazorean.” But this time Jesus said something quite remarkable:
“I have told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
“Let these men go.” This brief phrase gives a hint of Jesus’ atoning mission. It was as if he had said: “I will take their place. I will take upon myself their guilt, their sin, their sickness, their pride, their anger, their blindness, their exile, their hunger for power, their fear, their shame, their sentence of death … so that they may go free once and for all. Let them go. It is me you want.”
Everything that Jesus took to the cross was sin or the outgrowth of sin, and it added up to death. Taking everything upon himself, Jesus carried it to Calvary, taking our place, the place of the guilty, so that we could go free. His heavenly Father raised him from the dead so that we would be free even of death.
Easter is the time of seeking and finding Jesus, of being set free by his love. It is a time to savor with both gratitude and trust the hand of eternal friendship God extends to us and to take our faith — our sight — seriously.
Come, and you will see.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - April 2019