“What are you looking for?”
When this question is posed to us we are usually in the middle of a scramble to locate something. Sorting through and tossing aside everything in our way, our face reveals the intensity of our search. The questioner is often indicating a concern for our situation, hoping they have the answer or expressing a willingness to join us in our search.
John’s disciples were searchers. They followed him, obviously wanting something more, something different than life was currently offering. Sincere and honest, John made it clear he was not the Messiah; he was simply making way for the One to who was to come.
When Jesus walked by, John did not say much. His disciples were primed, ready for this moment. They did not glance up and turn away. They looked to the one of whom John was speaking. Scripture scholars explain that the word translated for us as “look” refers to a careful and intentional searching, a “sizing up” sort of gaze.
Jesus would have felt it in his being, similar, I imagine, to the times we have looked directly into the eyes of someone who is studying us. Jesus would have known they were looking with more than idle curiosity. There is an intensity in Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” Imagine listening to the ensuing conversation and feel the power of a simple roadside exchange that led to an invitation: “Come and see.”
We might slip ourselves into the drama. We have been primed, we have heard about the Messiah. We stare after Jesus and he turns and faces us. The moment of truth arrives. Everything else drops away as the sincerity of our search is considered. What am I looking for? Do I honestly call him Teacher? Do I want to know where he is staying and see how he lives? Do I really want to follow him?
At every age and stage of our lives, we are invited to come and see. Some of us are like Samuel. In the first reading, Samuel had the experience of being awakened in the darkness by a voice he didn’t recognize. We are fortunate if, like Samuel, we have a wise elder who guides us to answer, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
There are also those who see us and follow us, wondering who we are and what we are about. Some will be sincere in their search, some will approach in idle curiosity, and some will be looking for a way to discredit us and to condemn the way we are living. We must be alert to the intention. Both John and Jesus looked carefully at their questioners before answering.
In her book Poustinia, Catherine Doherty advises us to be polite with curiosity seekers, to briefly answer them, and to end the conversation kindly but firmly. There are those who are sincere, pilgrims in whom we recognize the search for the Christ. These are invited to remain. With them, we may choose to share our faith, and the particular story of our faith journey.
Some careful discernment is required. Just last week the gospel reading told the story of Herod and his seemingly honourable intentions. Wisdom came to the magi, and wisdom will guide us. Gentle nudges will let us know when, where and how to share the gospel, the good news of our lives. Wherever we are, we also remain in the heart and mind of Christ; we attentively listen for the quiet inner voice that will guide our words and actions. We can hope that our lives become like Samuel’s, and that no words will fall to the ground.
The coming of the Messiah, celebrated less than one month ago, brought a fresh reminder of the light and hope that comes into the world. Carried in our minds and hearts, it is revealed in our words and actions. The opportunity to bring light and hope comes when we least expect it.
On one winter day I saw flashing red lights in the rearview mirror of my vehicle. I was soon to be reminded that the speed limit in special zones in my new community was 30 km per hour and not the 40 km limit of my previous community. An angry officer gave me the full force of his frustration. Somehow, in the face of an onslaught of words, I was mysteriously made upright and solid inside. We ended up having a conversation after which he commented he was glad he had pulled me over. Offering that it had been “an exceptionally bad day,” he explained that he now felt ready to go home and celebrate Valentine’s Day with his wife. The world was a tiny bit brighter for both of us.
When Simon, son of John met Jesus, he was given a new name. At times, we are called to receive that name for ourselves: Cephas (Peter) meaning “Rock.” May we be made rock solid, sure and strong in the face of the many challenges life brings our way.
Merk Hildebrand has a passion for education, spiritual and palliative care. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the House of Bread Monastery in Nanaimo, BC Contact Brenda through her website: www.thegentlejourney.ca or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org