The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you desire?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. (John 1:35-40)
John the Baptist sees Jesus and points him out to the two who are standing at his side, two men who have been “trained in his school,” so to speak. He does not now give them a long explanation, but simply urges them with these simple yet profound words to pass now from the Precursor to the Messiah himself: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (1:36)! The two men immediately begin to follow Jesus, who turns to them and asks: “What do you desire” (1:38)? Certainly he asks this question more for the sake of the disciples than for his own sake. He is probing their hearts to draw forth in them the thirst that they bear for his coming, for liberation from their sins, for the definitive salvation which he has come to bring.
But this is also a question that is addressed not only to them, but to each one of us. In this way it is indeed a question that is relevant to us every day of our lives, in our every choice and desire. “What do you desire?” It is deeply significant that Jesus’ first words to those who approach him are not words of command, or words of accusation, or even words of teaching. They are words of questioning. He seeks to penetrate the human heart by his question, a question asked in love. “What do you desire?”
Yes, and what he seeks to touch and to awaken in our hearts is precisely desire. For he knows that the rest of our life will be build upon the depth, the intensity, and the purity of our desire. Without desire nothing can endure, without desire there is no strong foundation on which to build. But in asking this question of us, Jesus knows already that what we desire is him, the “most beautiful of the children of men” (Psalm 45:2), and the intimacy of his loving embrace. We ourselves, however, may not be aware of this. We may seek to fulfill our desire in so many other ways, ways that only leave us more thirsty, more empty, more discouraged. But in the depths of our hearts, the creative hand of God has left an indelible mark, his “image and likeness,” which makes us restless until we rest in him alone.
These two disciples, aware of what they yearned for, immediately responded to the question of Jesus with a desire to know him more deeply, to enter into the mystery of his own Person and to share in his existence: “Master, where are you staying” (1:38)? This is the response that this question should awaken in us too. It is not about reducing the Lord of all creation, the eternal Son of the Father, to our own narrow proportions, to satisfy some “need,” but rather about allowing ourselves to be led, day by day, deeper into the mystery of his love and his intimacy with the Father.
His intimacy with the Father…yes, that is the ultimate answer to those words—“where are you staying?” The human heart yearns for rest, for abiding and true repose in the arms of Love—and this is what Jesus offers to us, if only we will abandon ourselves to him and allow him to lead us to his own dwelling-place, into his home in the fatherly embrace of God.
Jesus asks us about our desire, because he is authentically and deeply interested in the hopes and aspirations of our hearts. He knows that our desire, more than anything else, reveals the truth of who we are and what is most important to us. But he also knows that our desire is so often submerged under fear, under confusion, under discouragement, or eclipsed by other desires that are more immediately accessible to us, but which really do not correspond to the depth of our being. And so he asks… He asks to awaken. He asks to clarify. He asks to set free—to liberate in us our most authentic desire, which is but a response to God’s own loving touch which has brought us into being and ceaselessly sustains us.
But when this desire awakens, when we become aware of this desire that he has placed within us, and which he now enkindles by his touch and his word, we realize how much this desire is enchained to many other things that hold us bound. Our thirst for love encounter him who is Love, and a flame of hope leaps up in our heart. And yet we find ourselves burdened by so many clinging attachments to the things that surround us, to our need to control, to maintain our own autonomy, to have some comfort or security. To entrust ourselves totally to Another, to give ourselves away so totally as to belong to Another entirely. Is this possible?
In laying hold our our inmost desire, it is as if Jesus is taking us by the hand, to lead us out, through all the darkens and confuses our existence, into the radiant light of his Love. He takes us and seeks to carry us, with him, into the true security of the Father’s eternal embrace. He leads us, in a word, in a twofold movement of love: from narrowness into expansiveness, from slavery into freedom, from lovelessness into love, and from sadness into joy.
Yes, Jesus leads us out of the shackles that have held us bound, from the whirlpool of our own self-preoccupation, our own fear. And he does this in order to liberate us, in our authentic truth, so we may enter into and experience the truth for which we were created: resting in the embrace of Love. Yes, his intention is to bring us with him into the true comfort, the true joy, the true repose of love and intimacy. “Come and see” (1:39). Yes, if you step out and follow me, if you leave behind what has so long held you bound, I will draw you to be with me where I am. And you will see. You will see, and seeing you will know, and knowing you will love, and loving you will rejoice.
Already, in this first moment of following Jesus and staying with him, we already glimpse the drama that will unfold throughout the whole of John’s Gospel. A connection is made between this first encounter—“‘Where are you staying?’ … ‘Come and see’”—and those rich words in the final conversations before Jesus’ departure: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (14:2-3).
The true home of Jesus is the bosom of the Father. And he has come among us precisely so that he can take us to be there with him. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world” (17:24).