Like in the synoptics, one of the earliest activities of Jesus in John’s gospel is the gathering of disciples. I say “gathering” rather than “calling” because the action is decidedly different as John tells the story. At least in the instance of the first two disciples, Andrew and Simon Peter, Jesus doesn’t go down to the lake and start talking to fishermen, asking them to give up everything to follow him. There’s no promise that they will have a bigger catch than fish; he doesn’t really try to entice his potential disciples at all. Instead two disciples of John who have heard what John has said about Jesus simply decide to follow Jesus.
Gilberto Ruiz at the Luther Seminary Narrative Lectionary commentary has a helpful discussion about the double meaning of Jesus’ question to the two disciples when he notices them following. “What are you looking for?” he asks. It could be as simple of a question as asking what they are doing following him, but it could also be much more meaningful than that. What are they looking for in Jesus, in the Lamb of God, in a teacher, or, as Andrew reveals a few verses later, a Messiah? This question alone and the different ways it is answered in this text with names and descriptions of Jesus could be a possible focal point of a sermon (Lamb of God, v. 36; Rabbi/Teacher, v. 38; Messiah/Anointed, v. 41; him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, v. 45; son of Joseph, v. 45; Son of God, v. 49; King of Israel, v. 49).
Another direction that appeals to me a great deal is centered on “vision” words in the the text — words like “see/saw,” “looked,” “watched.” Without turning to the Greek text to determine if they have their roots(1. I’m on vacation and don’t have that available. 2. It would take me a LONG time to figure it out even if I did have all the tools.), their overlapping meanings in English bring them to my attention and, I believe, carry theological significance and homiletic potential. I found thirteen different instances of these vision words in our seventeen verses with a range of people doing the looking, seeing, and watching.
One direction to take with these words is to pay attention to who sees, what they see, and what it means to see. The first disciples come and see where Jesus is staying, and in staying with him Andrew is able to make the declaration that Jesus is that Messiah. When Jesus sees, particularly when he sees Nathanael from a distance, there is an intimacy and a supernatural quality at play. Jesus can see with more than human vision; he can see the inner qualities and life of Nathanael. He also promises more meaningful visions to his disciples (v. 50, 51) in the future, inviting them into his supernatural vision.
Particularly noticeable to me is that pairing of “come” and “see.” This pair of verbs seems to define what it will mean to “follow” or be a disciple of Jesus in John’s gospel. Coming implies movement, both away from a past or prior understand and toward a new future and understand. Seeing implies a revelation, a change of perspective, a new understanding of God. Following Jesus, we hear as he is gathering disciples, will provide a new vision, both something new to look at and a new way of seeing the world. This is supported by all the striking vision images and metaphors used throughout the gospel. The author of John will be painting pictures with words – bread of life, lamb of God, shepherd and gate, vine and branches. There are plenty of different ways to see who Jesus is when a disciples chooses to “come and see,” something we also get when we look at all the different names and descriptions of Jesus mentioned above in just these seventeen verses. Likewise, we are told much later, the signs Jesus performs, the miracles we can see, have been given that “you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Some other directions for preaching might take into account the different placement of and speaker of the declaration that Jesus is Messiah when compared to the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place this much later in Jesus’ ministry and out of the mouth of Peter. John has put it right up front and given the honor to Andrew. This detaches the declaration from Peter’s new name, something Gilberto Ruiz addresses in his commentary. For me this shift in chronology only adds to the importance of seeing. We are told and at least one disciples believes right up front Jesus is the Messiah. The rest of the gospel then is presented to tell us what it is this Messiah will do. The rest of the gospel is an opening up of this package, a revelation of God’s vision for Messiah.
As I think we will find this whole season with John, there are MANY different ways this text can go. How you will follow the Word in your preaching? What will you invite your audience to come and see?