by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked: ‘What are you looking for?’”
John 1: 35-42

The fact that the two disciples followed the passer-by whom John the Baptist identified as the Messiah was confirmation that they trusted their leader’s insight and intuition. That they themselves were disciples of the Baptist was clear indication that they had been captivated by the man and his message. Clearly, they were searching for something that would give meaning to their lives. When Jesus turned and confronted them with: ‘What are you looking for?”, their response of “Where do you live?” was so anaemic that it demonstrated that they were unable to articulate even for themselves, let alone anybody else, exactly what was the object of their searching.

Their response makes me wonder if we are very different. The world in which we live is riven with conflict, confusion, competition and corruption. As we struggle to make sense of all or some of that, as we look in horror at the violence some of our fellow human beings are inflicting on one another, I suspect that we, too, might be searching for ways in which to give meaning to our own lives instead of ignoring what’s going on around us or telling ourselves that what we cannot solve is a problem for others.

Closer to home, we rub shoulders with others who are searching for satisfaction, peace of mind and heart or contentment of one sort or another. The yearning of some does not go beyond the desire to own a home which they can call their own, yet knowing full well that it is beyond their reach unless they win lotto or the national lottery. Others are searching for employment that will match their talents. Our younger people leaving school are wondering if the world into which they are venturing is on the verge of self-destruction because of humanity’s inability to adequately deal with climate change or to live in peace. This younger generation is searching for hope.

Today’s gospel-reading gives us a snap-shot of a handful of seekers who had not clearly articulated for themselves the object of their searching. It was fortunate for two of them that they were accompanying an extraordinary leader who pointed out to them the Messiah for whom their people had been waiting for countless generations. We would say that what the Baptist did by identifying for them Jesus as the Messiah was truly providential. It was providential in that, whatever transpired in the course of their lengthy encounter with Jesus, they came away convinced that they had met the Messiah and that they would give him their allegiance. Their searching had providentially led them to an encounter with the one, who in time, would give meaning to their lives.

While our searching is often bumbling and dissatisfying, every now and then we engage with someone whose wisdom and insights help us to give meaningful direction to our lives. If we care to list for ourselves those people who have played a significant role in our growth, development and emotional and spiritual maturation, we will come to realise that we have actually outlined the highlights of the story of God’s love for us.

We are all involved in searching for something or someone who will help us to find satisfaction and meaning for our life-long journey. There are times when it seems that our searching has ground to a halt. Still, we persist in looking for someone or something that will give a kick-start to the next chapter of our lives. That kick-start comes in a person or event that reflects something of the love and care of the God who loved us into life.

Yet, while our searching continues and our life-journey proceeds in fits and starts, it is important for us to remember that we have a God who, in turn, is ceaselessly searching for us. That truth is borne out in today’s first reading from the Book of Samuel. We hear how a young Samuel experienced recurring dreams of a voice calling to him in the night. Each time, he woke up and went to Eli, his guide and mentor, saying: “Here I am, since you called me.” Puzzled, initially, by Samuel’s repeated visits to him, Eli eventually realised that it was God who was calling the boy. His advice to Samuel was to listen closely to what he was hearing, for the voice he kept hearing was the voice of God.

God also calls, prompts and nudges us, often in unexpected ways. Our task is to be as observant as the Baptist was when he saw Jesus passing by and as discerning as Eli was when Samuel told him of the voices he heard in his dreams. God’s promptings, invitations and challenges will come to us in the ordinary events and personal encounters of our daily lives. “What do you want?” was the question which Jesus, in the guise of an ordinary man on the street, put to the Baptist’s disciples.

In today’s gospel-reading, Jesus puts that very same question to us. Our response has to be a little more focussed than “Where do you live/’, especially if we have forgotten that Jesus lives deep within each of us.

I dare to suggest that the truly pertinent message of today’s gospel-reading is that the only source of the satisfaction and meaning for which we are all constantly searching is the one with whom the disciples of today’s gospel-reading spent ‘the rest of the day” and the remainder of their lives. That leaves me with the uncomfortable question: How much time do I spend in the company of Jesus?