Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Have you ever seen the movie, The NeverEnding Story? It’s a film from the early 80’s and a childhood favorite of mine. In the film, a young boy named, Bastion, finds himself reading a book called, The NeverEnding Story, which tells the tale of a hero named, Atreyu, who is on a quest to save his world from an annihilating force simply known as, The Nothing.
The Nothing turns out to be the manifestation of the loss of hopes and dreams, which steadily devours the world, leaving non-existence its wake. The cure to this calamity is belief. And someone in particular must manifest this belief.
Now, up to a point in the movie, Bastion—the boy reading the book—seems to be a mere theatrical device through whom the audience listens to the story of the hero, Atreyu.
If you’ve ever seen, The Princess Bride, it’s like that. The setting in which we listen to the story of The Princess Bride is that a grandfather is reading that story to his grandson. Their role in the movie isn’t strictly necessary. They could have been edited out of the movie with little consequence.
That’s how Bastion appears in The NeverEnding Story. That is until the fourth wall is breached between Bastion and the book he’s reading. While reading, he’s eventually drawn into it—quite literally—and he becomes the main protagonist. It’s his belief that must overcome The Nothing. Bastion becomes an active character in the story and the primary agent as to the story’s outcome.
It’s a creative twist, but not an original one. The book we hear from today has it beat by over nineteen centuries. In John’s gospel, we are meant to have that kind of symbiotic relationship with the text we read.
You’ll notice a certain character mentioned a handful of times in the entirety of John’s gospel, known simply as, the beloved disciple, or "the one whom Jesus loved." In short, you are that beloved disciple. We each are meant to discover that we ourselves are active agents in the gospel we read.
And the outcome of that gospel cannot be determined without your participation and mine. Before the gospel is over, the wall is breached between book and listener, as the author speaks the reason for the gospel’s existence. Like in The NeverEnding Story, the reader is called to believe.
Near its end, the author writes: Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his Name.
How we’re invited to believe is spurred on by occasional questions you may notice surfacing in John’s gospel. At certain points throughout the gospel, our Lord challenges certain disciples and would-be followers, asking them very nuanced questions. For us, these persons serve as interlocutors; persons through whom our Lord enters into dialogue with us.
One can trace through Christ’s questions where a person might be in their own personal journey of discipleship. Here are a few examples: What is your concern to me? Do you want to get well? Do you also want to leave me? Why are you trying to kill me? … Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? Do you know what I have done for you? Have I been with you for so long and still you do not know me?
These questions and more all appear in John’s gospel. Question by question, our Lord travels through Scripture with his disciples and would-be followers; and with each of us.
Ultimately, these questions will escalate into the most pivotal questions a disciple must answer: Whom are you looking for, and Do you love me? But his line of questioning begins today, with that very first question: What are you looking for?
These are the very first words our Lord speaks in the entirety of John’s gospel. John the Baptist had watched Jesus pass by, and said to two of his followers, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” essentially dismissing them, as if to say: Your time with me is over, and your time with Him begins. He is the one you must follow now. And so, they do.
They leave him and follow after Jesus, who turns and asks them, “What are you looking for?” For whatever reason, they’re unable to answer that question directly. And our Lord doesn’t force their response, because further dialogue isn’t contingent on any right answer given in that moment.
Our Lord knows full well that the answer to his question must be discovered along the way. And so, he invites them to, “Come and see.” In time and in his company, they will find the answer to that question, and be challenged with other questions as they enter deeper into the mystery.
Where our Lord will lead them will be quite surprising. It will be surprising in its ordinariness. He’ll travel throughout Galilee of all places, which is simply their home region, with occasional visits to Jerusalem, as required of all Jews. But what will transfigure that domestic journey into the greatest of adventures will be Christ’s presence. Like leaven in dough, Jesus will shape their experiences.
Like those two disciples, we are now presented with that same question: What are you looking for? What is it that you seek in this life? What is it that you want to do? Like the disciples, we’re not being graded for our response either. This isn’t a test and there’s no A+ that we’re meant to chase. What is it that you and I are sincerely looking for?
At best, we can respond to our Lord’s same invitation to come and see. Our answer must likewise be discovered on the way. Our Lord is there in our homes, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods, in our families, in our communities, in our relationships, in every place we might regard as ordinary; ordinary, but never mundane. When we approach all of these places, trusting full well that our Lord is staying there, we find ourselves as active agents in the greatest of adventures, certain to find Him as the answer we’re looking for.
John the Baptist Preaching, by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1634 – 35, oil, on canvas, Gemäldegalerie, Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]