It’s interesting…and, perhaps, it’s also significant…that the first words from Jesus in St. John’s Gospel are a question: “What are you looking for?” His first words are not one of the many profound sayings of Jesus that pepper this Gospel or the other three. It’s not a provocative parable or a moving sermon. It’s a question, a simple question. “What are you looking for?”
But…the way St. John sets up his narrative, Jesus’ question serves as a clarifying turn for John the Baptist’s famous declaration: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
What we have here is really a profound scene despite its simplicity. One day Jesus walks past John. John points and says, “Look!” Two of John’s disciples, Andrew and another man, turn and look where John is pointing. They take off after Jesus. He then turns and asks, “What are you looking for?”
Now St. John could have gotten all theological at this point, and could have inserted an extended discourse about the term “Lamb of God.” All that sacrificial lamb imagery, all that blood imagery, all that good shepherd and his flock imagery which St. John loves to employ in his Gospel.
But no! He doesn’t do that. “Look the Lamb of God!” John declares. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. And finally, Jesus says, “Come and see.” So the narrative takes us from “Behold the Lamb of God” to “Come and see.” And in between there’s nothing but questions. But in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus loves to use questions to get people from point A to point B!
In 1885 the Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, wrote a short story called, The Three Questions. Once upon a time a certain king decided, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.
So he asked all the wisest counselors in his kingdom those three questions, but they all had a different answer. To the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up a list and live strictly according to it. Others said that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action, so don’t get absorbed in idle pastimes. Still others said that no matter how attentive the King might be to what was going on, to decide correctly the right time for every action, he had to have a Council of wise men.
Their answers were equally varied to the second question. Some said, the people the King most needed were his counselors; others, said the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary.
To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.
Since all the answers differed, the King agreed with none of them. He decided to consult a hermit, renowned for his wisdom. The hermit lived in the woods and never ventured from his simple hut, and he received no one but common people. So the King put on simple clothes, and before reaching the hermit’s dwelling dismounted from his horse, left his body-guard behind, and went on alone.
As the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground he breathed heavily.
The King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you the answer to three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need? And, what affairs need my first attention?” But the hermit said nothing. He just went on digging.
“You’re tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.” “Thanks!” said the hermit. When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said: “Now you rest awhile and let me work a bit.”
The King didn’t give him the spade, but continued to dig. An hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, when the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said: “I came to you for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”
“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit. “Let’s see who it is.” The King turned around, and saw a bearded man come stumbling out of the woods. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from between his fingers. When he reached the King, he fell to the ground moaning. He had a large wound. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with a towel. When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived.
“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King was looking at him. “I don’t know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King. “You don’t know me, but I know you. I am an enemy of yours who swore to avenge myself upon you, because you executed my brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped them, but would have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Forgive me!”
The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend. Not only did he forgive him, but sent his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.
Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out onto the porch to beg one last time for an answer from the hermit to the questions he had. “For the last time, I pray you, answer my questions, wise man.” “You have already been answered!” said the hermit, looking up at the King.
“Answered? What do you mean?” asked the King. “Don’t you see,” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness, and dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, so the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business.
“Afterwards when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.
“There is only one time that is important—Now! The most necessary man is he who is with you; and the most important affair is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!” The End.
“Come and see, “ says Jesus. And He takes us by the hand through a world of questions—Who am I? Why am I here? What does it all mean? “Come and see,” He says, and takes us by the hand through a world of sin—Why did I do that? Why did that happen to me? How could I? How could they? “Come and see,” He says, and He takes us by the hand to stand on the other side of Good Friday and Easter, on the far side of our own death and resurrection. And there at the end we come to see what we hadn’t known along the way, how every question we thought was so essential was being answered by the Lamb of God, the One taking away the sin of the world.
So now is the only important time. And Jesus is the most necessary person to be with. Because with Him—whatever each moment may bring, whatever questions may arise—with Him we are free…free, now, to do whatever good is at hand to do. Come and see!