David A. Davis
January 15, 2017
“Rabbi, where are you staying?” Where are you staying? It’s an odd question right there at the start. “Where are you staying?” Jesus notices the two disciples of John are following him. Jesus speaks first. “What are you looking for?” One doesn’t have to be a theologian or a literary critic to pretty quickly conclude that Jesus wasn’t just asking “What’s up?” or “How’s it going” or “Where are you headed? or “What are you doing?” A careful reader discovers these are the first words spoken by Jesus on John’s gospel stage. The first lines given to Jesus in John’s passion play. Jesus’ first, deep, searching, meaningful question. “What are you looking for?”
“We are looking for the Messiah, the one of whom the prophets foretold… We are looking for the Lamb of God, the one to whom John testified… We are looking for the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit… We are looking for the holy one, full of grace and full of truth.” No, according to John they said “Rabbi, where are you staying.” It sounds more like alums who arrive at a reunion and want to find the best place to hang out: “So where are you staying?” Or friends who run in to each other over the summer on the boardwalk: “Where are you staying?” Or college students comparing notes after the room lottery: “How did you do?” Or high school youth rushing to read the call sheet for the next play: “Did you get a part?” Or young kids getting together during Christmas break: “What did you get?” Or someone arriving home after a long day at school, or practice, or work, and asking to anyone within ear shot: “So what’s for dinner?” One of our kids growing up had a friend who would arrive at our house often unannounced, walk right in, and within a few minutes was opening the fridge or looking for snacks in the pantry. It was a nonverbal question often repeated with action in our kitchen over the years: “Have anything to eat?”
“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’” It is as if they want to check out his digs. Or see who hangs out at his place. Or find out if his house was clean. Or whether he was just renting a room. Or whether he had any place to lay his head. Or find out his economic status. Or ask after his family. Something about the expression must be lost in translation here. Maybe it is something cultural about hospitality. Maybe it is more of an expression or an idiom. Because there is more going on here than domestic exploration when Jesus responds with “Come and see.” And as the gospel writer tells it, “They came and saw where he was staying.”
You will remember that the Gospel of John is so full of details that sort of leap off the page. Just here in the text for this morning John provides a language lesson: Rabbi, which translated means Teacher; Messiah, which is translated Anointed; Cephas, which is translated Peter. And the narrator mentions out of nowhere that it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
John always seem to pair detail with memorable image, language, and symbolism. At the wedding in Cana when Jesus turned water into wine, the Gospel describes the jars in detail: six stone water jars each holding twenty to thirty gallons. But as for that miracle, that’s when Jesus said to his mother “My hour has not yet come” and John sums up the scene by describing it as the “first of his signs in Cana of Galilee” that revealed his glory. Details paired with symbol.
When Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath at Beth-zatha, the text describes the scene: in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is pool which has five porticoes in which many of the blind, lame, and paralyzed lay. One man was sick for 38 years. By the end of the scene after the man took up his mat and walked, Jesus said to those who were questioning him, “Very truly I tell you the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.” Details paired with deeper theological imagery.
All through John. That breakfast scene on the beach with the Risen Christ. When the disciples caught the fish they were only about a hundred yards from shore; there were 153 fish in the net and on the charcoal fire was some fish and some bread. And that’s when Jesus and Peter had that three times repeated interchange: do you love me, yes, Lord, you know I love you, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you are grow old, you will stretch our your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go (Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God).” John’s gospel putting that kind of complexity together with 153 fish and a boat about 100 yards off shore.
Which is all to say that Jesus’ invitation for the two to “come and see” had to be about a whole lot more than where he was hanging his hat, or taking off his cloak, or putting up his feet, or resting his head, or hanging his shingle, or taking his meals. “They came and saw where he was staying.” Staying. That’s a loaded term in John, used three times here in these few verses. Teacher, where are you staying? Jesus said to them Come and See. They came and saw where he was staying and they remained (or “stayed” — same word in Greek). They stayed with him that day. The language lessons, the details of the time and day, all of it paired here with “staying.” The symbol, the deeper image, the theological fencepost from John is “It is in the staying.” “They came and saw where he was staying.”
Staying. John 6:56: Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” Abide. Same word as “stay.” John 15: Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Stay in me as I stay in you. And “if you keep my commandments, you will abide, you will stay in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and stay in his love.” The two came and saw where Jesus was abiding. It’s not a domestic inquiry. It has everything to do with Jesus and God and humankind and the most profound imagery, symbolism, theology we can muster.
It’s interesting that the Christmas memory verse from the Prologue to John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” lived among us, dwelt among us is a different word in Greek. After all the poetry and the beauty of that Prologue to John, Christmas in John, that word, that “lived-among-us” word in Greek pretty much doesn’t come back. Once Jesus gets going in John with ministry, once he calls the disciples, once he starts teaching and healing and loving, for John, in John, it’s all abiding, staying. That’s the word. It’s the word that shouts incarnation. It’s all incarnation. God with us. Christ with us. Christ for us. Yes, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and he stayed. They came and saw where he was staying. They came and saw him in the flesh. Hair, teeth, bones, eyes. They came and saw that he was staying. God was staying. The Messiah. Emmanuel. God with us. Staying. Abiding with us.
Christ the Lord came to live among us that night and he stayed. Which means he cried, he soiled his diaper, kept his mother up, rolled over, crawled, took first steps. He had growing pains and his voice changed and he worried his parents. He had friends. He had a favorite meal. He played games. He went to work. He had teachers and mentors and awkward family moments. He saw the sunrise and the sunset. He knew what it meant to be cold and hot and tired and disappointed and joyful and tempted and angry and scared. He laughed. He cried. His heart was broken. He grieved. He hurt. He bled. He died. He stayed the whole time. Messiah. Emmanuel. God with us. God for us. From birth to death. He stayed the whole time. “They came and saw where he was staying”.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and he stayed. And in the staying, in the abiding, Christ Jesus made what it means to be human holy. He made our ordinariness sacred. Yes, the most profound parts of being human, that we are created in God’s image and created to give God praise, that matters to him. And the most mundane parts of being human, loving and laughing and growing and learning and sharing and caring, it all matters to him. To abide in Christ, as Christ abides in us, it means that loving one another and loving your neighbor and forgiving as you have been forgiven and caring for the sick and comforting the grieving and welcoming the children and embracing the outcast, all of it is a sacred task. When you come to see that he stayed.
He stayed. Jesus came all the way down that holy night and he stayed. It is one more reminder, one more affirmation of God’s love. That God loves all of you. I don’t mean all (collective of you) which is indeed true. I mean God loves all (every part) of you. In his collection of sermons entitled Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tells of a woman that everyone called Mother Pollard. “Although poverty stricken and uneducated,” King describes her, “she was amazingly intelligent and possessed a deep understanding of the meaning of the [civil rights] movement.” One evening after Dr. King spoke at a large meeting in a church, Mother Pollard came up to him after the meeting at the front of the church. Sensing that something was wrong, that he wasn’t feeling strong. He tried to reassure her that he was fine and deflect her concerns. “You can’t fool me,” she said, “I know something is wrong.” Before Dr. King could respond, Mother Pollard looked into his eyes and said, “I told you we are with you all the way.” Then as King describes it, “Her face became radiant and she said in words of quiet certainty, ‘But even if we aren’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.’” Dr. King finishes that sermon by telling how Mother Pollard’s eloquent simple words came back to him again and again to give light and peace and guidance. “God’s gonna take care of you.”
Mother Pollard must have known what the Gospel of John wants you know. Jesus stayed. And that makes it all matter. All of it, all of this being human stuff, matters. Because in Christ Jesus, we know God so loved all of us.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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