By Fr. Mark Perkins
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part devotional series on incorporation and action — who we are in Christ, and what we do as Christians. In this installment, Fr. Mark Perkins reflects on Christ’s invitation in John 1 to join him in the Father’s bosom. In the second, he considers good works flow from ontology in Colossians. In the third, Thomas Fickley reflects on what it means to be Christ in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”
"Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see." (John 1:35-38)
Considered historically this is a simple event in the narrative of Jesus’ life. Understood, however, in light of the broader theology of St. John and indeed of the whole canon of Scripture, this brief interaction takes on profound meaning for who we are — and what we do — as Christians.
Let's start with the simple narrative. Perhaps we should imagine John taking these two by the arm and pointing them to Jesus: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ Or perhaps he merely speaks the words to himself in awed reverence, and they overhear. But in either case, the Baptist makes no formal introduction. He equips his disciples with knowledge, but they must step out in faith.
As Jesus’ first disciples take the initiative to follow him, he turns to face them. It is a simple act and in the historical moment no doubt a fairly trivial thing. But the specificity of the motion is preserved in a narrative that, like most of the Bible, is quite compact and sparse. In this act we see Christ’s gracious response to all who seek him, no matter how tentatively, and in it we see also a hint of the beatific vision that awaits all who love Jesus. He will lift his countenance upon us.
“What seek ye?”
These are our Lord’s first recorded words in St. John’s Gospel, and, like many first lines in texts ancient and modern, they are descriptive of Jesus’ larger character and mission. We find Jesus asking this question, explicitly or implicitly, throughout the Fourth Gospel. When a multitude tracks him down after his feeding of the five thousand in John 6, Jesus notes that they seek him for wrong reasons — to fill their bellies with “the meat which perisheth” (6:26). He redirects them away from what he can give them to who he is: “I am that bread of life… which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die… For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (6:48, 50, 55) In a similar vein, Jesus greets the band come to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsamene with a question: “Whom seek ye?” (John 18:4). When they answer, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he responds by invoking the divine name. “As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground” (18:6).
That question — "What seek ye?" — constitutes a comprehensive guide for living. If we could ask it of ourselves daily — better yet, if we could perceive that Jesus himself asks us that question each moment — and if we could answer honestly and forthrightly, how many of our self-deceptions and false idols would fall away!
"What seek ye?”
Let it be Christ.
“Where dwellest thou?”
In asking for Jesus’ home address, these two disciples simply want to know more about this Lamb of God.
“Come and see.”
Jesus invites them to see where he lives, and they do: “They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day” (1:39).
In another sense, however, Jesus also thereby invites them to continue on the path of discipleship. Initially, they follow him because of John the Baptist’s declaration. Now they have the opportunity to do so at Jesus’ own invitation.
There is a deeper meaning yet. In asking where Jesus dwells, the two disciples sought more than they knew. We know from John’s prologue what they did not: that Christ’s true dwelling place is “in the bosom of the Father” (1:18). To see Christ’s dwelling place is to see the bosom of the Father. In fact, Jesus will later claim, quite shockingly, that to see the man Jesus is to see the very face of God:
“Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (John 14:8-9)
But let us press on (further up and further in, if you will). Christians not only gaze upon the Father evident in the Son — but, mirabile dictu, we join the Son in the Father’s bosom.
“We abide in him and he in us” (1 Jn. 4:13), St. John later tells us. Jesus, of course, provided no such clarifications in the moment. He gives no promises of beatific visions or mutual abiding — not even thrones or kingdoms — only an invitation to be with Jesus where he dwells.
We, in turn, are given this invitation each Sunday, when the Celebrant faces the people and proclaims the Baptist’s own words: “Behold the Lamb of God; Behold him that taketh away the sins of the world.” At that moment we look upon and adore the true Body of our Lord, sacramentally present in the Celebrant’s hands. Our Lord promises that this Eucharistic feast unites us to him:
“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:56-57).
And to be in Christ, dwelling in the bosom of the Father, cannot but transform us.
Fr. Mark Perkins is Assistant Editor of Earth & Altar. He is also Assistant Curate at All Saints Anglican Church, Charlottesville and a full-time history teacher.