Sunday, 15 January 2017

Epiphany 2 Breathing Space: Remaining with Christ

“They came and saw where Jesus was staying, and they remained with him that day.”

Near the beginning of John’s Gospel, we find people making their way to Jesus. He doesn’t seem to seek them out, as he does in the other Gospels. Instead, they seem to be drawn to him.

John the Baptist has pointed him out. “The Lamb of God” he calls him, but it’s an enigmatic title. Lambs were for sacrifice, associated particularly with the Passover festival , that great moment when the people of Israel remembered the time they had been led from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. The Passover festival was a great time of rejoicing for the people, but not such good news for the lamb. What is John saying about this man? Who is he? What is he going to do? Why will it matter?  Nothing is clear to these followers of John, but they want to know more.

So off they go after him, following at a distance it seems. Maybe they want to be noticed, maybe they don’t, but Jesus realises they are there and turns around to talk to them.  “What are you looking for?” he asks. Their answer sounds a bit odd. “Where are you staying?” It sounds as if he has caught them off guard, as if they are a bit lost for words. They don’t ask him who he is or why he has come or what he has come to teach. As answers go, it is a bit inane – what difference does it make where he is staying?

Jesus could have answered by simply giving them his address – “third house on the right beyond the butchers shop,” or wherever it was. But he doesn’t. He hears what they mean rather than just what they say. He hears the hunger lurking under the surface of this apparently trivial question. He knows them better than they know themselves.

Their deepest need isn’t to know where he is; it is to be where he is. That is a whole different thing.

Knowing where Jesus is, knowing about him, is something we can do from a distance, without getting involved. If these men had had his address they could have said “Ok, fine – we’ll drop in sometime” and never done it. We can study the theological literature about Jesus, listen to the sermons and debate our opinions without ever being touched by him personally. But Christian faith calls us to more than that, just as Jesus calls these disciples to more than simply knowing his address.

“Come and see”, he says them. And they do, “remaining with him that day”. It was about four o’clock when they were invited to go with him, so we have to assume they sat with him as dusk fell and night came. What did they do? Well, I am sure they talked – about God, about themselves, about him. I am sure they shared ideas and argued about theology. But if they “remained with him that day” they must also have prepared a meal, chopped the onions, cooked the bread, done the washing up, lit the lamps, stoked the fire, all the everyday things that people do when they spend a decent length of time together. As well as the talk there must have been silences, as well as the deep theological stuff there must have been small talk – “pass the salt”, “mind that chair- it’s a bit rickety”. Maybe there were other people around too, family members and friends dropping in and out, making them welcome, joining in the discussion or just wanting to know when dinner would be ready.  

The joy of this image of these two men “remaining” with Jesus, for me, is as much in its ordinariness, its picture of Jesus simply being with these two curious disciples of John, letting them see him as he was in all his raw humanity, letting him see their raw humanity too.  

The word “remain” in this story – “they remained with him” – is translated in some versions as “abide”. There’s quite a lot later on in John’s Gospel about “abiding”. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that they need to “abide in him” and let him “abide in them”, just as he “abides” in his Father. He uses the image of a vine, with branches grafted onto it, with the life of the parent plant flowing through them. It’s no good if those branches are just tied on for an hour or two now and then, though. For a graft to take it has to be permanent, abiding.

It’s the same for us. We are invited first to “come and see”, but the hope Jesus has is that having “come and seen” we will then remain and abide. God calls us, says St Paul, “into the fellowship of his Son”. His invitation to us is to share his life, and let him share ours, day by day, on Monday mornings as well as Sunday nights; in the ordinary things we do as well as the special things.

In the silence tonight, let’s imagine ourselves in that house with Jesus, making ourselves at home with him, just as he hopes we will do. How do we feel about “abiding” and “remaining” with him, and letting him remain with us.


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