Spending the Day With Jesus
If you prefer listening to an audio version of the text, please click here
Writing in Life magazine a number of years ago an essay entitled, “The Best Thing I Learned in School,” the novelist Wally Lamb shared a story about the most significant thing he learned in school, not as a student, but as a high school teacher. As Lamb tells the story, one day, in the outdoor smoking area, some students circled around a student with a mental disability.
The male high schoolers started throwing their loose change at this student, taunting him and calling him all kinds of ugly names, their cruelty seemingly unlimited. Adding to the pathetic incident, the student they were insulting wasn’t aware of their intent or mockery, so he happily picked up and put in his pocket the coins as they fell off him and landed around him.
Lamb writes, “By the time I happened on the scene, the circle was five or six students deep and coins were being fired at hurtful, hateful velocities. The crowd cheered each stinging contact made. As I attempted to break through and stop this sickening spectacle, a 15-year-old girl beat me to it.”
“Entering the circle, she threw her arm around the game’s victim and led him out of the firing line, ignoring as best she could the immediate transference of hostility, the coins, taunts, and four-letter words now being hurled at her.”
He continues, “I witnessed this incident about 20 years ago, but it lingers as a vividly imprinted lesson in the necessity of immediate moral response to human cruelty. Cathy James, wherever you are, whoever you’ve become, you remain one of my heroes.”
“Come and you will see.” That singular phrase, spoken by Rabbi Jesus, stands out in the Scripture passage that we study today. Asked the question, “Where are you staying” by two of John’s disciples, the Rabbi from Galilee answers, “Come and you will see,” inviting the pair to follow him and, in following him, they will see where he stays.
The word “stay” is a favorite of the evangelist John, popping up with a regularity that forces us to look closer at it. Writing in Greek, John uses the word meneis, variously translated as stay, live, remain, or abide. For example, later the Rabbi will tell his followers, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him. Or, “Abide in me and I in you.” Or, again, “Remain in my love.”
Obviously, the word connotes a closeness, a deep relationship, one that abides or stays rather than comes and goes. “Where do you stay?” the disciples ask. “Come and you will see.” With those words, the Rabbi offers these would-be disciples the opportunity to have that closeness with him. If they come with him, they also can stay with him.
Fifteen-year-old Cathy James, in the story that Lamb tells, makes the same argument, even without a single word said. As Lamb watches her intervene to save her classmate from the cruel torment of upperclassmen, sadistic and egotistic, the unspoken question in his mind could have been, “Where do you stay?” And her actions, altruistic and eucharistic, give this answer, “Come and you will see.”
Interestingly, the Scriptures tell us that the two disciples, Andrew and James, “went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day.” And in the process of staying with him, they also came to see, not where he physically stayed, but where his heart stayed. In those hours spent with him, they saw that he reached out to others in need, wiped the tears of those who wept, and embraced the forgotten and the forsaken.
Seeing all these things with their own eyes, they saw who he was, enough so that Andrew runs to his brother, Simon, to tell him what he has seen. “We have found the Messiah,” he excitedly tells his older brother, urging him to see with his own eyes. The Scriptures tell us that Andrew “brought him to Jesus,” becoming in these pages one of the first evangelists, only after John the Baptist, who first told him, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
The question placed before us, as we live in our time and in this place, is a simple one. Who do we bring to Jesus? Are we like Andrew, having spent time with the Rabbi, seeing his good deeds and hearing his kind words, able to bring others to Jesus by our words and by our deeds? Or, do we do the opposite, turn people away from Jesus because of our way and our words? Do others, seeing us at work, say that we truly abide, live, stay with Jesus? Or do they, seeing how we operate, decide we don’t live anywhere close to where Jesus stays?
We might remember the story of the woman who stopped behind another car at a traffic light. When the light turned green, the driver in the other car didn’t realize the light was green, distracted by his cell phone. The woman became infuriated, pounded on her steering wheel, and blasted her horn. When the driver in the first car looked up to see what was going on, the woman offered him a certain finger.
By the time the first driver got through the light, it had changed and the second driver was left at the intersection, angrier than ever. She heard a knock on her window, a police officer on the other side. He ordered her to leave the car. Speechless, the woman did as the officer asked. She was handcuffed and taken to the station.
A while later the policeman came to the cell where the woman was, offering an apology, explaining that a mistake had been made. He tells the woman, “I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, swearing, and making obscene gestures at the guy in front of you. Then I noticed the We worship at St. Joseph’sdecal and the Would Would Jesus Do bumper sticker. I just assumed you had stolen the car.”
Hearing the story and being honest with ourselves, we realize that it is not far-fetched, not far off, not far from the truth. Do we not find ourselves behaving in the same or similar ways, if not in our car, then in the office or at home, berating, belittling, behaving like schoolyard bullies, all the while boasting of our membership in the church down the street or our participation in the weekly Bible study?
“Come, and you will see.” In saying those words, Rabbi Jesus invited the followers of John to see where he stayed and, in seeing where he stayed, they chose to leave the side of John and stay beside the Rabbi of Galilee. Others around us are given a daily opportunity to come and see where we stay, the invitation needing no words, our actions sufficient to show them where we live.
And in seeing where we live, we either bring them to Jesus or we send them running for the hills. Years ago, the professional golfer Jason Gore told about an experience he had when he was just an eleven-year-old boy. He said that he had convinced his mother to drive him to Latrobe, Pennsylvania to meet Arnold Palmer.
As luck would have it, Palmer was at the golf club that day, so Jason was able to see him. The two had a brief conversation and had their picture taken together. Then something special happened. Palmer turned to the 11-year-old and said, “Son, I’m going to hit balls. Would you like to come watch?” Eagerly, the boy followed Palmer and, as he sat on the slope behind the famous golfer, he watched him hit balls for about forty-five minutes.
Gore, ending his story, said, “And from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer.” “Where do you stay?” the disciples asked the Rabbi. “Come and you will see.” So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Later, Andrew, finding his brother, told him, “We have found the Messiah.” Then he brought him to Jesus.
Again, the question begs to be answered. Who are we bringing to Jesus? And if we are bringing no one to Jesus, then, are we, in truth, living with Jesus? Years ago, the writer Robert Inman wrote a book called Dairy Queen Days. It tells the story about a sixteen-year-old boy named Trout who tries to find his place in his parents’ hometown. His dad, a man named Joe Pike, is a motorcycle-driving preacher whose sermons annoy and antagonize the local Methodists.
In a conversation Joe has one day with Trout at the Dairy Queen, the place where Trout works, Joe says to his son, “I’ve got an idea.” “Oh?” asks Trout. “Jumping for Jesus,” Joe says. “What’s that?” Trout wants to know. “An exercise class,” his dad answers. “Where?” Trout asks him. “The church,” he answers, “Did you get a good look at the congregation yesterday?” “Sure,” Trout responds. “What did you notice about them?” Joe asks. “Older.” Trout says. “Moribund,” his dad says. “If flies had lit on ‘em, the flies would have gone to sleep.”
Listening to that conversation between Joe Pike and his son, we’re left with that visual that Joe paints for us–followers of Jesus so dead that if flies had lit on them the flies would have gone to sleep. And if that is the case, then, no disrespect to Joe Pike, jumping for Jesus is never going to get any life back in them. It’s going to take a lot more, a bringing back from the dead comparable to Jesus’ raising of Lazarus.
If we find ourselves troubled by these far from Christian times in which we live–and most of us do–then the solution to the problems is found in ourselves, in our hearts, in our lives, where we stay. As the Scriptures make abundantly clear, the Galilean Rabbi offered a way to live in the world, a way that brought reconciliation, not division, that sowed love, not hatred, that promised hope, not despair.
If we want that world–and most of us do–then we are shown the way in the Scriptures again today in the story of the two disciples of John who look at Jesus from afar. “What are you looking for?” he asks them.” “Rabbi,” they answer, “where are you staying?” He turns to them and says, “Come, and you will see.”
Perhaps, like them, it is time for us to spend the day with Jesus.