It's the second day of our church's service trip to Appalachia, and of my friend's youth trip to flood-ravaged eastern Iowa, which got hit with two major storms this weekend, including one just last night. I wrote devotions for the Appalachia trip, and as I look at them it strikes me that they have application to those of us who stay at home, as well. I'm posting them here, if nothing else, as an act of solidarity. Almost literally the least I can do.
“Come see the amazing bearded lady!” “Come see the unbelievable wolf-boy!” They holler as you walk past, with all the urgency they can usher up. The carnival barker is concerned for your soul: your life will never be complete without seeing a person contort herself into a three-foot-by-three-foot box.
I find it hard to imagine Jesus hollering. For whatever reason—maybe because he looks so serene in all the pictures—Jesus strikes me as generally quiet. And yet here he is in John 1, whispering a phrase that sounds suspiciously like the loud appeal of the huckster at the circus: "Come . . . and you will see." Why should we believe this Jesus?
John 1 is one of the Bible’s busiest chapters. In it the author links Jesus’ life to the original act of creation: “In the beginning . . .” Jesus is, according to this Gospel, that important. And yet as soon as the author sets up this portrait of Jesus as God himself, he switches camera angles to focus on John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and predecessor in the role of religious upstart. Not knowing what to make of his wild ways and dire predictions, onlookers wonder out loud if John is the promised Savior of God’s people. He quickly tells them no and instead points them to Jesus.
John’s disciples can take a hint, so they start following Jesus around. To this point, Jesus has been seemingly minding his own business, but now he asks them what they want.
How do you react when someone you admire, someone you’re intrigued by, asks what you want? You don’t necessarily know; you just want to hang around, to see what will happen, to get inside their head. You don’t know what you want; you just know you don’t want to give up this obsession too quickly.
So these awkward would-be disciples ask Jesus their own question, one that doesn’t really matter. “Where are you staying?” To which Jesus responds, “Come . . . and you will see.”
Jesus, it turns out, isn’t staying anywhere. He’s on the move, and to come to him is actually to go with him on what turns out to be an amazing adventure. Before these disciples know it, they’re issuing the same command to their friends and acquaintances that Jesus just whispered to them: “Come and see.”
Coming on a trip to serve people far from your home is an act of discipleship. You may not even know exactly why you came, but here you are, and Jesus, it turns out, is your guide. As you make your way through this week, keep your eyes open, because Jesus brought you here to show you something: about yourself, about him, about the world we find ourselves staying in. For this week at least, this is where you belong, because Jesus, we believe, is God, and this is what God wants you to see.