What are you looking for? he asked. What are you looking for? We are only partway through Chapter 1 in John’s Gospel and have already heard eleven descriptions or names for Jesus that may spark our curiosity, capture our imagination, or resonate and meet our needs —depending on what we might be looking for. Take Rabbi or Teacher, Messiah or Christ meaning the Anointed one, the Son of God, and the Lamb of God calling to mind God’s deliverance at the Passover, perhaps the victorious Lamb of apocalyptic hope for the faithful, or suggesting a sacrificial lamb like the Suffering Servant we hear about in Isaiah. Earlier in the Gospel, John described Jesus in more universal, metaphorical terms such as the Word—the Word made flesh, and the Light of the world—the true Light that darkness cannot overcome, but for anyone still not satisfied, still looking there’s more to come. Whatever goodness we are looking for in God, Jesus can provide it, and perhaps what we seek or see in him is what we also feel called to be or provide—some as teachers or healers, some offering a word of comfort or hope, some protecting, championing or making sacrifices for others, some as peacemakers, promise-keepers, or simply being there which is the most profound expression of Emmanuel—God with us.
What are you looking for? How many times over the course of our lives do we ask ourselves that question? Why? When? At significant turning points or crossroads? Times when we feel confused, disappointed or dissatisfied? Lost or bored maybe? Where do we look for answers? Self-help books and articles, web-sites and workshops, questionnaires that pigeon-hole us, a parent, teacher, trusty friend, or professional advisor perhaps? At different times and for various reasons, I thought I had tried the lot, but help can also come from the most unexpected sources...
What are you looking for? he asked, drilling into my head, while I lay helpless unable to answer with my mouth full of ironmongery as he continued removing an old filling—drilling deeper while his assistant tried out her latest water-boarding technique. Taking my inarticulate choking sounds and distress as an admission that I didn’t know, he enthused about a fantastic programme that saved him from frittering his life away. Right then, I was more concerned about who’d save me from this demon dentist—drill in hand, droning on, promising me happiness, achieving my dreams and full potential by shelling-out a few thousand dollars as I graduated through a series of brain-washing weekends. Touching a nerve in more ways than one, I would have agreed to almost anything to escape from that chair, which is why a week later Andrew and I attended an introductory session at a downtown hotel, just a block from where we lived. After an hour of slick sales talk and testimonials met by frenzied cheering and clapping, we guessed where this was leading, so as soon as the lights went up at the intermission we made a bee-line for the fire exit and didn’t stop running until we’d made it safely through the security gate at our apartment.
Whatever we were looking for, that definitely wasn’t it, but it shook us up, made us think, made us talk, and over the next few days we finally put our finger on it—besides a new dentist, we had just about everything a pair of hard-working, fun-loving young professionals could expect except for a spiritual home—a faith community where we felt we belonged, could continue to learn, grow and contribute in some way. In our typical engineers’ logical, problem-solving way we went looking, but still could not have told you exactly what we were looking for, only that we’d know it when we found it. And we did—in a simple sermon about grace that opened our eyes to a totally loving God—not the volatile, vindictive version we had been taught to fear in the past.
It wasn’t that the preacher was particularly eloquent, but as Paul realized—clever, well-rehearsed arguments can get in the way of the Good News spoken from the heart by someone who has experienced God’s grace first-hand. Without exaggerating his failings, or the depth of despair he had suffered at times, he described what it meant to accept that God loved him and everyone else too. That’s the core of the Gospel, the key truth that Jesus, the Word made flesh came to reveal, and the Word was Love—a love to lighten even our darkest days and redeem us from whatever can rob life of its richness and the relationships that we need to let us know we are accepted and truly loved, that we are valued and belong. Some of us have to hit rock bottom or the desolate pit as the psalm says before we can see what is dragging us down then start to climb out. Many of us experience setbacks, sadness and rejection, but hopefully few have felt despised like the Suffering Servant Isaiah describes. But most of us can probably relate to Andrew and his friend who knew something important was missing in their lives, so went looking, and followed Jesus.
What are you looking for? he asked. Their reply Where are you staying? and his response Come and see! may sound mundane, but in John’s Gospel many words carry multiple meanings, and some are lost in the translation. Take the verbs to look and see that are crucial to understanding the deeper, spiritual meaning of today’s text. Besides their literal use, they express our ability to sense another dimension to life that offers insight beyond the day-to-day. To look and see capture the human desire to seek and find joy at the deepest level of our being—a joy that can lift us out of the mire of confusion, feeling fed-up and weary of life, to discover the answer lies in God’s love which opens new possibilities and what some call enlightenment. Other keywords include staying and remaining—like the two followers who remained with Jesus and where he stayed. Staying and abiding imply something long-term like the everlasting love intrinsic to the inseparable relationship of One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the very love that Jesus prayed his disciples will share. Although his followers did not know exactly what they were looking for, clearly the love Jesus showed them was enough to convince them that God’s unconditional, limitless love is the key to salvation, and that Jesus came to bring that Good News to the poor and poor in spirit too.
What are you looking for? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once our physical needs are met, we feel safe and belong to a group that accepts and loves us, we are free to pursue activities that give us a sense of accomplishment and maybe recognition. Beyond that, besides achieving our fullest potential or self-actualization, lies self-transcendence in the service of others for the well-being of all. The biblical prophets and poets, Jesus and his followers like Paul put it another way, describing our calling to share God’s love across all social, cultural and political boundaries because that is the saving grace that sets us free to give and receive help by daring to ask others as well as ourselves What are you looking for?
Some good secular programmes try to provide answers and promote similar values, but do they satisfy the soul? I found they satisfied other needs that kept me busy for years—paying my dues and paying the bills but I knew there was another part of me paying the price, getting short shrift. Ever felt that, or suspected it? The assurance that we are loved no matter what certainly helps, but accepting that God loves us is the real game-changer. It’s a choice—for some a once in a lifetime decision, but for me it is a regular, ongoing choice and constant eye-opener.
What are you looking for?