John 1:35-39


3. The First Disciples’ Answers

John 1:35-42     Andrew and Companion

Throughout the Gospel, the author’s primary concern would not be, primarily, to recount events and teachings as they happened in the past. Rather, the Gospel would use memories of past events to anchor the community’s on-going reflection on its experience of the risen Christ in the present.

35 The next day John was standing there again.  
Two of his disciples were with him.

This was the third day.

The narrative drew on the community’s memory that John was not a lone figure, but had been surrounded by a group of disciples. Jesus would become a disciple of John, and his first followers would come from the band of John’s disciples. All were Jews who had been attracted by John’s vision and ministry, who were dissatisfied with life as they knew it and who hoped for change – the same reasons, perhaps, that had drawn Jesus to John.

36 He looked closely at Jesus who was walking past,
and said, “Look, the lamb of God”.

John repeated his earlier identification of Jesus, specifically for the sake of his disciples.

37 The two disciples with him heard what he said
and followed Jesus.
38 Jesus turned around and noticed them following him,
and said to them, “What are you looking for?”  
They said to him, “Rabbi” – which translated means teacher –
“where are you staying?” 
39 He said to them, “Come and see.”

The disciples addressed Jesus simply as Rabbi, teacher. They had yet to come to faith.

The Gospel’s translating of the Aramaic word Rabbi would seem to indicate that some or all of the readers (second and third generation Christian disciples) were unfamiliar with Aramaic.

Come and see is the invitation made to every disciple – and the possibilities of the journey are never exhausted.

… They went and saw where he was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.  
It was about the tenth hour. 

To be more alert to the deeper message being conveyed by the Gospel, it is helpful to note that the words stay and remain are simply alternative translations of the same Greek word.

The significance of the time of day is not obvious [the tenth hour was about four o'clock in the afternoon], other than to lend interest to the story. 

The Christian Journey to Faith

The Gospel of John needs to be read at different levels. Narrative detail is not always historical detail. The style is succinct; the vocabulary is limited. Simple words have varied meanings and depths, some of which are clear, some not. Literary dialogue is not historical dialogue. It is the creation of the storyteller, embodying insight into the mind and heart of the risen Christ alive in the community, rather than faithfully recording past words of the historical Jesus. The flow of the dialogue is proper more to an email exchange than to conversation; and its purpose lies more in meanings than in historical plausibility.

The conversation between Jesus and the two disciples of John is significant. It is the first dialogue of Jesus recorded in the Gospel. In its Greek original, the whole dialogue was made up of six words. The gospel’s use of words is often multi-layered. Its vocabulary is very simple, like the words of a poem that allow for meanings beyond meanings.

What are you looking for? Jesus’ first words were simply: “What are you looking for?” Jesus was not seeking information but something more profound. His question is the question that Jesus asks every disciple – and that sets up the journey of discovery into the mystery of Jesus. Ultimately, the question invites all disciples to get in touch with their deepest heart longings. In those longings lies the energy that nourishes the search for Jesus and for God.

Where are you staying? The two disciples replied with a further question: “Where are you staying?” Their query about geographical location masks a far deeper question. The word translated “stay” has occurred before, where it was translated as “rest”. Depending on the context, the word can refer to “where one is at home” or even to “the experience of feeling at home”. In this context, the disciples’ question is seeking to know Jesus’ on-going experience of life and attitude to it, his contact with God, “where he feels familiar”. John had already commented that the Spirit of God “rested on” Jesus, and hinted thereby at the inner world inhabited by Jesus. The readers’ question, expressing something of their deepest longings, may well be: What is the nature of the “inner world” that Jesus inhabits?

Come and see. Jesus’ response to their question: “Come and see”, expresses the invitation that Jesus makes to every prospective disciple. It explains the purpose of the Gospel – to lead its readers to a personal knowledge of Jesus and to deep love: “That you may believe” [20.31]. The disciples’ seeing “where he was staying (remaining)” and then “staying with” him would seem to carry the deeper meaning that they began to enter Jesus’ inner world. 

Only by spending time with Jesus can future disciples learn the secrets of his heart. Their deepest heart yearnings will be discovered, ultimately, in the heart of Jesus. Through their pondering the Gospel, they are invited to move beyond knowing about Jesus, beyond adoration, beyond thanksgiving or requesting, to inhabiting the inner world of Jesus in contemplation (as the author would have Jesus say in his prayer to the Father “I pray that they all be one, just as you Father in me and I in you. May they be one in us ..” [17:21,23]).

Next >> John 1:40-50