A text of John’s Gospel gives us the description of the first meeting of two disciples with Jesus. It is a classic, a must-read at the beginning of this series of meetings with Jesus and reflections on the missionary vocation as a place of encounter.
The reading of John 1, 35-51 opens a window on what happened when Jesus emerged from His baptism in the Jordan; and one perceives the attraction that His person and His teaching had on the disciples of John the Baptist and on his contemporaries in Galilee.
Whereas in John’s Gospel, the disciples are looking for Jesus, in the narrative of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) it is Jesus in Capernaum, where he begins His ministry, who seeks companions for His mission.
Another feature of John’s narrative is that people are on a searching adventure due to someone’s testimony. The first two disciples set forth on the way after the testimony of John the Baptist. Then, it is the testimony of Andrew who leads Peter to Jesus. Finally, the testimony of Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus. We have a chain of meetings made possible, thanks to the testimony especially the one of John the Baptist (1: 19-34).
In John’s Gospel narrative, we have thus a common paradigm, a dynamism that fuels a search: a testimony that sets people on the way and leads to an encounter with Jesus, marked by an intense experience of communion and intimacy, in which Jesus reveals Himself and the person comes to a profession of faith in Him.
The searching journey of the first two disciples is awarded with a dialogue with Jesus. Three very significant expressions mark this dialogue, which is intense and reduced to the essential: First, “What are you looking for?” is the question Jesus asks when He sees them; second, “Master, where are You staying?” – a question of the two disciples which verbalizes their interest in the Person of Jesus; third, “Come and see” is Jesus’ answer which, at the same time, challenges the interest of the two possible disciples.
This dialogue leads to the encounter: “they went” and “saw where He was staying” and “they stayed with Him that day.” The verbs used in the text – go, see, stay – mark the path that leads to the encounter with Jesus.
What can we glimpse in the invitation of Jesus “come and see”? Certainly an opening, a revelation from Jesus that speaks of His mission as the Servant Messiah, a mission that challenges the messianic hopes of the two disciples and of all the disciples of John the Baptist, all expecting a messiah king and deliverer.
We may think that Jesus dialogues and opens Himself to these two potential disciples, showing them what He intends to do. The term “stayed with Him that day” is to be understood not only in the sense of physical time, but in the sense of existential time, of a day of grace (kairós) that they are living in because they have the opportunity to enter the heart and mind of Jesus and be in touch with Him, to know His proposals.
In the narrative, Jesus confirms and challenges the disciples’ expressions of faith: He calls Peter “stone,” recognizing the stability of his membership; invites Philip to follow Him; recognizes Nathanael as an authentic Israelite: “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree” (the fig tree being the symbol of wisdom, it depicts an appropriate place to study the Law, source of wisdom in Israel).
This encounter with Jesus and this experience of “being with Him” and seeing things as He sees them, yield a succession of testimonies and encounters: Andrew goes to Peter, Philip goes to Nathanael. The encounter with Jesus enables these first disciples to go out of themselves and go out to others, enkindle in them an inner fire that makes them able to connect with Jesus and testify in His favor; to tell others “we have found the Messiah.”
In this testimony, not everything is easy or idyllic. Nathanael is the first to make fun of Philip: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The answer to overcome the difficulties of the testimony can be found in the words of Jesus which Philip recalls and directs to Nathanael: “Come and see!” – an the invitation to enter into the process of listening to and being in tune with Him.
The most intimate moment of this encounter is, on the one hand, the confession of faith, coming out of Nathaniel’s mouth: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel” and, secondly, the revelation of Jesus: “You will see greater things than this… you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” – words that announce a new stage of the revelation in words, actions and “signs” performed by Jesus.
Jesus’ answer “come and see” is an invitation to know Him, to enter His mind and His heart, into His life, arriving at the confession of faith in Him as “Son of God.” In John’s narrative, the importance of being with Jesus, entering into his vision and his horizon, reaching a confession of faith in Him before receiving a mission or task to accomplish on his behalf, is evident.
Our response to this narrative of John’s Gospel would stir within us the need to “be with Him”, a time of grace, surrender and personal openness; to look for spaces and opportunities to “be together.”
This fourth Gospel narrative awakens in us the attraction to Jesus, the ecstasy of falling in love, the sense of beauty of His message, the curiosity to discover the mystery of His person, accessible to us, the Gospel readers, through the words that it proclaims, this image of Jesus told and passed from generation to generation, in the word and testimonies of many.