Scripture for this Sunday (Epiphany 2):
Isaiah 49.1–7; Psalm 40.1–12; 1 Corinthians 1.1–9; John 1.29–42
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks this question of two disciples of John the Baptist who approach him. It’s a fundamentally important question for all followers of Jesus to address.
In his book, Freedom Is Coming, the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, mentions the song by U2: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for …,” which as he says, expresses the frustration and disappointment at seemingly inescapable darkness. This was in the context of the chapters of Isaiah addressed to people in exile, hoping for a rescuer, only to be given a description of a suffering servant and a mandate that requires them to look well beyond the boundaries of a limited community living in exile.
“What are you looking for?” Anyone looking for a rescuing super-hero is going to be as disappointed today as would the exiled or occupied people of Israel presented with a vulnerable, non-violent resistor who ended up on the cross.
“What are you looking for?” It’s a great question. One we should ask ourselves, honestly, of all our relationships, considering the connection between what we see and what we look for.
There is repetition of words concerned with looking and seeing in the gospel passage, which reminds us that we should be alert to what we look for and what we see; and that others will be looking at and seeing what we do and how we live. The love and mercy of God will be experienced by most people through the touch and care of the people who bear the name of the God they claim to serve.
So what are we looking for – to be “saved?” The theologian Karl Barth, when asked when he was saved said, “33 AD.” His point was that we are saved by the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. If we get hung up in questions about being saved, then we might miss the point that we already are – and always have been. And therein lies a pointer as we approach Jesus’ question.
There exists the possibility that, unlike U2, we might in fact have found what we are looking for – but do we recognise what we have found? Jesus asks, basically, the same question much later, in a garden, of Mary Magdalene. And of course what, or whom, she is looking for, is standing right beside her.
In asking ourselves: ‘what are we looking for?’ – might we already have found it? Like Barth’s point about being saved, are we sufficiently alert to recognise what we seek? Perhaps, even when we don’t really know what we are looking for, if we honestly seek God and God’s truth, even not fully understanding exactly what that means, if we honestly follow the example of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we may find it after all … or it may find us. Or it may have already found us. So – what are you looking for?