“Jesus said unto his disciples, Now I go my way to him that sent me…”
Jesus spoke these words to his disciple on the night in which he was betrayed and according to the arrangement of the Fourth Gospel they were spoken after the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, after washing the feet of his disciples, and after Judas had departed from the lighted upper room to make his way through the darkened streets of Jerusalem to the Temple where he sold out Jesus. Last week we entered once again into our study of the Fourth Gospel and I want to take some time this morning to take stock of where we have been in this study, where we are presently, and where we may expect to go. All four gospels are peripatetic and so if we enter into them imaginatively we are always on the move and aways aware of the specificity of space and time. We are striding along the dusty roads of Palestine, or cleaning our nets as waves lap against our boat, or we are hunkering down in the grass surrounded by wild flowers taking in one of Jesus’ sermons, or we are standing on the pavement of the Temple in Jerusalem filled with the odor of burning flesh and where we hear the bellowing of animals being slaughtered. But we are always with Jesus. He is the center of our attention. There are literally only a handful of occasions in the gospels where Jesus is not the active center of attention, but even there he is the Prime Mover. For example, the preliminary story of the Magi and the clandestine plots of the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus are conspicuous because his is absent, but even there, in his absence, he is the very source of their collective attention.
“Jesus said unto his disciples, Now I go my way to him that sent me…”
What I would like to do now is to recall what we have seen as we have followed Jesus along the way his Father had sent him and as you know that begins with what we cannot possible see at this time but what we shall see at the end of time, namely the vision of God in his perfect splendor:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
Thus the journey we have been gathered up to make has its beginning not in Israel, but in the abode of the Blessed Trinity which abode we know from Jesus and his Apostles is a dwelling of pure Light, pure and perfect love, not in need or want, but in absolute, unabridged truth, goodness, beauty, and mutual love. That of course is impossible to visualize, but that is the state of being of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that is referred to in the first verse of the Fourth Gospel.
It is impossible to visualize because it is entirely outside of space and time. This is a beginning, a time when there was no time. A place where there is no place. This is all but impossible to talk about, as I stutter along here, since we human beings are created in such a way that for us to speak meaningfully of anything we must assume and reference space and time. Which is to say that God has created us to indwell not a mathematical formula, but rather we are made to indwell narratives and narratives are made to indwell us.
We hear the words, “In the beginning was the Word,” and it is perfectly fair to ask “What kind of beginning is that?” A better translation would be, “In beginning…” That is a beginning that always is, a beginning that has no beginning, no time, no past, no future. And no place. All that is, is God. God is all in all and God is perfect, and God is not alone because God is three Persons abiding in perfect union, perfect joy, and perfect love. But how on earth do we talk about that? The Beloved Disciple’s beginning is an eternal beginning, the perpetual beginning, frequently referred to as “eternal life,” — that is the life of God the Blessed Trinity, before there was any creature at all. There was no imperfection, no need, no absence of joy, or peace, or love — only God. So why would God create anything at all? It would be a mistake to think that the absence of creation was an absence of relation, and love, and joy. It would be a mistake to think that God was somehow solitary, all alone, forlorn, bereft prior to creation. Here, in the bosom of the Father, we first meet the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of the Father, who will enter the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and assumed our flesh, our human nature, into the Divine life of the God who is God so that Mary’s Offspring is really and truly God Almighty as well as being a really real human being: Jesus of Nazareth.
“Which was born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
Then comes the first narrative we can recognize as a narrative, odd as it is. It is as though one moment we in the eternal abode of the Blessed Trinity, in the bosom of the unspeakable, unnamable Father “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” then suddenly we tumble down from heaven into the wilderness and land somewhere around the Jordan River. And there we meet a preacher, dressed in ragged camel skins, who declares, with great urgency, that we had better get ready because what we just left — the abode of God Almighty — is about to break into this world, break into our everyday life, and nothing can stop it, and nothing will ever be the same. John the Baptist is perfectly clear that the One who is coming into the world is coming from the bosom of the Father:
“John bear witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.”
John the Baptist’s declaration is simply this: There is the Coming One, he is the Messiah, he is greater than any of the other Prophet, he is eternal — “He was before me…” And then came the launching of Jesus’ earthly mission:
“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.”
John the Baptist was decisive. It is a though he stopped everything and took his two young disciples by the arm and then he points to another very average looking young man walking along the bank of the Jordan and he says: “This is the Man from Heaven. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. That man , right there, is the Son of God.” Grace perfects nature, grace perfects human nature and that divine principle shines the brightest when the Word was made Flesh. This is the narrative world of the Gospel of John, the autobiography of God made Flesh. This is the life-story of Jesus; the tale told that we may know Jesus is God and we may know what it means to be his siblings, true children of the Father who loves us.
Here is the central event: John stands and he points to Jesus as he is walking away. That is right. Jesus is walking away from John, walking away from the Jordan. Why is he walking away from John the Baptist? Because the ministry of the Baptist has achieved finality and there is nothing else to gain from it:
“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.”
Jesus steped away from John the Baptist, and John’s own disciples took their first steps away from the Baptist as well by following Jesus. In the narrative there are the two disciple, and one is identified as “Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.” These two young men upon the word of the Baptist leave John and follow Jesus. It certainly seems that historically the two follow Jesus at a little distance and without any formal introduction. They simply begin to trail behind him and in such a way that they only see his back — his face they cannot see and they do not know where he is going. And then, this little narrative within the narrative reaches its denouement as the strands are drawn together:
“Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?”
Jesus turns and in his turning he completes what the Baptist has started. In the literal, historic sense this is clear enough. Jesus was walking in front of them and he seems to stop and turn about to see the two young men face to face. But his stopping and turning has a deeper meaning for us. He turns to give them confidence, hope, and to show the mercy of the gentle, harmless, Lamb of God. This is what Jesus does for all those who begin to follow him however vaguely and imperfectly. He turns so that those who seek him may see his face. “Show us your face, and we will be saved,” sings the Psalmist.
Jesus stops and shows his face to his disciples in order to infuse hope, godly confidence, and mercy. And I suggest to you that this is played out for us, for our benefit, for our well being, so we may see it in our mind’s eye and fix our hope and our life upon Christ and God’s finality for us. This is the our great desire — that we shall see God face to face. This is God’s finality for his Church, the beatific vision. So here we have circled back to the first verse which began with what we cannot possible see, but it is that for which we long for in our heart, namely the vision of God in his perfect splendor. Little did those first two disciples know that day that there were gazing into the very real face of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For that matter little did the disciples gathered in the Upper Room realize that they had just had their feet washed by the God of the Universe. Neither did the man who was healed by the Sheep Gate know the true identity of Jesus. Nor did the Pharisees who plotted Jesus’ death for healing on the Sabbath. But you do know that he is the God who is God. You know this man came from heaven, from the bosom of the Father and you know his Father.