“Come and See”
“Come and see”. In the midst of our second lockdown, when we can barely go anywhere or see anyone, and in a week when restrictions in Scotland are tightening even further, it might seem perverse to focus on those words from this week’s Gospel reading. Nonetheless, I couldn’t move past this phrase as I reflected on the readings and I found that, despite the confinement and frustration that I expect we all feel acutely right now, there is still a lot to find in these words.
“Come and see” isn’t the first thing to be said in the Gospel passage we heard. Jesus utters the first words of any characters when he draws Philip to him with the invitation or command: “Follow me”. We’ll take a look at this phrase first.
We all recognise it as the quintessential phrase of calling. It’s what Jesus says as he calls the disciples in the Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — but he says to someone it only twice in the Gospel of John: here and when he reinstates and commissions Peter after the resurrection.
Despite its rarity in this Gospel, the phrase “follow me” is no less important. In fact, to my mind, the way it bookends the story gives it if anything more significance. Its placing shows that the call is not only to follow the incarnate Word of God — remember, the call of Philip comes very soon after John’s famous prologue “In the beginning was the Word” — but to follow the crucified and resurrected Christ. It is a call not only for those first disciples and not only for those first witnesses of the resurrection but for us who live in the age of the Risen and Ascended Christ.
As you might have heard many times, the usual pattern in Jesus’ time was for disciples to find their own rabbis and not for the rabbis to choose their disciples. So, in each instance in which Jesus says “Follow me” he is breaking convention. In Jesus breaking this boundary, God is breaking out of the run-of-the-mill, out of tradition, and taking the initiative.
God still takes the initiative and invites us with the words “Follow me”. Even if we think that we were the ones to make the first move, when we reach out, we find that God was alway up to Firefox s reaching out before us.
Not only is “Come and see” not the first thing to be said in our reading, but it isn’t said by Jesus. For us to understand its significance, we need to go back a tiny bit before today’s passage. Although Jesus doesn’t utter these words here, he is in fact the first person in the Gospel of John to use the phrase. Jump back to verse 39, and you will find him issuing this invitation to Andrew and another unnamed disciple who have begun following him of their own accord after John the Baptist identifies him as the Lamb of God:
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi … where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ (vv 38–39)
“Come and see” is Jesus’ invitation to the two disciples to spend time with him, to start sharing his life and begin getting to know him. Because of the way that John uses the same verbs later in the Gospel to speak about believing in Christ, we can read it as an invitation to discipleship and, therefore, as an equivalent to his invitation to Philip, “Follow me”.
God takes the initiative, saying “Follow me — follow my path. Come and see — come and share my life.”
Let’s return to Philip. Not only is he the one to whom the call “Follow me” is issued but he is the one who utters the words “Come and see” in today’s passage.
What strikes me about Philip is the first thing he is recorded as doing after Jesus calls him: he goes to find Nathanael and tell him that he has found the Messiah. It might not be obvious, but Philip is doing exactly what he is told here: for all that he isn’t following Jesus physically, he is following Jesus’ example. After all, Jesus has just taken the initiative and sought him out. Philip is imitating what we, the audience, have already heard and seen Jesus do: calling people to follow, to come and share Christ’s life.
It’s clear, therefore, that John wants us to understand that to follow Jesus means acting like him and bringing people to share his life. Philip isn’t a tubthumping, Bible-bashing street evangelist, trying to condemn harassed shoppers into the Kingdom of God, as I had someone trying to do before Christmas. Nonetheless, Nathanael isn’t, shall we say, the most receptive of audiences: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he retorts (verse 46). Faced with this disparaging reaction, Philip doesn’t get into a debate about the Scriptures or Jesus’ good character. Nor does he walk off in disgust or disappointment. He simply invites Nathanael to “Come and see”. He invites Nathanael to an encounter and lets the life of Jesus speak for itself.
These are fractious days. People are at each other’s throats about so many things. Folk are quick to take issue and offence. The comments sections of website after website are thronged with people writing things that make Nathanael’s retort look terribly mild mannered. As we have seen in recent weeks, some people let themselves be whipped up into violence to make their voices heard. But we are called to let the life of Jesus speak for itself.
How do we do that? We might be tempted to say that the life of Jesus can only be seen alive in us, the people of God, but that would be only half the truth. Yes, when people see the love of God at work in us, the peace of God rooted in us, they see the life of Christ. And, yes, it is our calling to let that love and that life shine out of our words and actions. But it is also our calling to keep our eyes open so that we can see all the places where God is at work — the expected, the unexpected and the downright scandalous (the Nazareths of our time) — and point gently and lovingly to them so that others can “Come and see” and be drawn into the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection life.
Questions for Discussion/Reflection
How did God call you?
Where do you see God at work in unexpected or even scandalous ways?
How could you bring that work of God to wider attention?