In this morning’s gospel, John the Baptist watches Jesus as he walks along and points him out as the promised One, the Lamb of God. Hearing this, two of John’s disciples decide to leave him and follow Jesus. Jesus senses their footsteps behind him; he turns and gazes upon them, "What are you seeking?" he says. "Teacher,” they say. “Where are you staying?" Jesus invites them, "Come, and see." A relationship has begun.
The scene takes place in Capernaum; some scholars believe Jesus had a little house there. Capernaum was after all Jesus' home base during his ministry in Galilee, and the Gospel of Mark will call it "his own town" and say that Jesus was "at home" when people came to see him there.1 And so these two go home with Jesus; now right beside him not behind him. And they see where Jesus is staying, and they stay with him that day. It is, the Gospel tells us, about four in the afternoon; an hour they will always remember.
What did they do at Jesus’ house? What did they talk about? Perhaps the typical questions – “You two are from around here right? Fishermen? I think I’ve seen you out there. The weather’s been decent for fishing, hasn’t it?” “Yes; and Rabbi where are you from?” “Nazareth, really?” (They glance at each with a bit of surprise; it’s kind of a nowhere place after all.) And then most probably there’s a meal. Maybe Jesus cooked; he was good at cooking fish. And maybe there was some warm bread from the woman next door. Some olives? I don’t know. But I’d bet anything that Jesus waited on them; their new rabbi serving them at table. It would have been unheard of at the time for a rabbi to do such a thing, but we can intuit that most likely Jesus would do something that. As he will remind the disciples later on, “I am among you as one who serves…I have come not to be served but to serve.”2
In the religious world of ancient Judaism a disciple always chose a teacher and followed him – a disciple followed, keeping a respectful distance behind his teacher, always listening and soon serving and caring for all his rabbi’s needs. With Jesus, it is all reversed; it’s all about his invitation. The disciples’ decision to follow Jesus and leave everything else behind is crucial of course, but it is Jesus who calls them to himself - not behind him but beside him. Jesus’ way to form new disciples is to make them his friends. And this morning we imagine his heart full of joy, for he has found friends with whom he can share his dream of God’s kingdom.
And so it is that these two new disciples stay with Jesus that day; they remain. It’s a compellingly beautiful word used often in John’s Gospel; in Greek, the word is meno - with so many connotations of intimacy, at-homeness, stability, and commitment. It’s what we say to those we love – stay, please don’t go yet. It’s what Jesus wants; he wants to remain with us. God in Christ has come down seeking our friendship - he wants companions as he creates the Kingdom. In John’s Gospel friendship is the ultimate description of what it means to be a disciple.
The Savior, (detail), El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid. 1 James Martin on Facebook. 2 See Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 72– 76.