Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
“What are you seeking?…. Come and you will see”
These first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John (John 1:38-39) epitomize the entire book. And they highlight a huge difference between our way of presenting Christ, and his own way of revealing himself.
Take a red-letter Bible and look at the first six chapters of John. You can set the page options to red-letter here and do this online. Skim through it quickly. (Note that some commentators think the red letters in John 3 should end after verse 15.)
What do you notice about Jesus’ way of presenting himself there?
I see him being willing to let people wonder.
In those six chapters, I count thirty-six or so separate responses he made to others’ questions or requests, whether expressed or implied. Eight times he answered a question with a question. Twenty times he answered with some form of enigmatic, oblique statement that left the listener just as bewildered as before. Only eight of those thirty-sex answers were straightforward. Many of those are at the end of his conversation with the woman at the well (John 4), after he had already treated her to an extended series of oblique answers and questions answering questions.
Early in his ministry as recorded in John, Jesus gave straightforward, this-is-the-answer-you-wanted responses less than one-quarter of the time.
His first sermon, recorded in John 6, is really remarkable. He explains none of his major points, all of which were confusing, and he ends with a question. He lost a lot of followers over that one. He was okay with that. Remarkable, as I have already said.
Now there’s another side to Jesus’ questions we ought not overlook. Some of them were showing interest in the other person. “What do you seek?” is one of those. So while he was willing to let people wonder, Jesus was quick to let them know he cared about them.
Later in Jesus’ ministry, John shows him being more straightforward. We’re in John 14:4-9 here, and the first words are from Jesus:
“And you know the way to where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
A little later in the same mealtime, the disciples say (John 16:29), “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!”
Finally! He gives both questions and answers here. At least the answers are clearer than before.
If I were doing a complete study of John’s Gospel I would set forth another contrast. Jesus takes a considerably more direct approach with his antagonists than with his followers or potential followers. We could learn a lot by thinking about that, but I don’t want to go there right now. I prefer to wonder with you why Jesus was so slow to give direct answers to the people who were most likely to follow him.
In the spirit of what I think he might have been intending to do there, I’m going to leave that question for you to answer. Early in his ministry as John records it, Jesus frequently allowed his questioners, his followers, and his potential followers to remain wondering. Why did he do that?
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