Who is it that you seek?

"When Jesus turned around and saw them following, he said to them, 
'What do you want?'" 
John 1:38

In a humorous scene in the movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella, a young Iowa farmer with a passion for baseball, has just kidnapped the 1960s radical journalist Terrance Mann. They are walking through the concourse of Fenway Park to watch a baseball game. They've been talking about Terrance's radical past and his current habits of isolation. Ray stops and asks him, "So what do you want?" Terrance proceeds to express with passion his heart's desire in a moment of immense vulnerability. Ray responds with a shocked look on his face and turns and points to the concession stand menu and repeats his question, "No, I mean what do you want?" They order two hot dogs and beers.

It can be a great question, 'what do you want?' Depending on your comfortableness in the particular setting in which the question is asked you might feel free to pull a Terrance Mann and unload your deepest heart's desire. Or, maybe what comes out is the felt need of the moment which can be satisfied with ballpark food. 

What if you actually heard Jesus ask you the question? How would you respond? I'm not certain I understand the response from these future disciples of Jesus. They respond by asking the question, "where are you staying?" There are much smarter Bible exegetes than I who probably can give us an in depth cultural reason why this might have been an appropriate question to ask, but for me, on the surface of it all, it seems pretty awkward. It leaves me with that feeling that they were on the level of Ray Kinsella in the movie.

They were young; they had been attracted to John the Baptist ministry and teaching. John did point them to Jesus with a vision of 'the lamb of God.' So they bolt from John and go to Jesus. What were they really after? Just one more great teacher of the day, one more intellectual feather in their cap? We go to conferences and read books with the same flair.  I get the feeling they don't really even know what they want. My hunch is, over the years of living with Jesus and even some time after the resurrection, the answer to the question became clearer. 

For me this is a good snap shot of all of us who follow Jesus. We start out full of enthusiasm that springs from a variety of reasons, but essentially it is to satisfy a felt need or desire or general curiosity. The questions we ask flow more from the, 'what's in it for me right now?' posture. Over the years of following Jesus, the questions spring from deeper places, from places of mystery, contradictions, and paradoxes. They become the questions that probably have two answers (even with Bible to back them up), and both are right. 

Every morning, as we begin to pray our morning liturgy that we've learned from the Northumbria Community, the cantor asks the question: "Who is it that you seek?" Which is an appropriate translation of John 1:38 in that the "What" can grammatically be changed to "Who". We respond, "We seek the Lord our God." The cantor then asks if we seek him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We respond to each question, "Amen. Lord have mercy." On paper it appeared to me to be a nice appropriate response in order to get us moving through the prayer so we can get to the rest of the time in Scripture. Then I had a conversation with Trevor Miller, one of the founders of the Northumbria Community.

Trevor was passionate about this little liturgical prayer because it was formed out of the years of his experience. He said the question is very serious; who do you seek? We have so many options for answers to choose from. Whether you ask it 'who' or 'what' we all are seeking beyond what we currently have in order to bring fulfillment to us. Trevor's life journey suggested that if indeed we are seeking Jesus, there needs to be a resounding: Amen, so be it! If there is not, then it might be an interesting clue into our souls as to what we really are seeking to fulfill us. Is Jesus just one more thing, one more piece of the pie, of our lives? Do we really believe Jesus can fulfill our deepest want or desire?

But then from a place of learned wisdom, Trevor completed the prayer. He said that the way life is really lived suggests that, with our faith, confidence and boldness in which we say Amen, is the reality that we need God's mercy. We need it and cry out for it because with all our good intentions we stumble and fall along the way. "Lord have mercy," is uttered with a humble heart, a vulnerable heart, expressing what is really true. 

What do you seek? A hot dog and beer, secure salary, good health, loving obedient kids, a spouse to love you and make you feel significant, to make an impact for the Kingdom of God? Nothing wrong or 'sinful' with any of these things. As nice as they are, they are generally about "what's in it for me?" Or, do you seek Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength in order to fulfill that which is deeper within you, that deepest want and desire, that for which you were created; intimacy with the Lord your God? If we do, then: Amen! Lord have mercy. 

I write this in hopes that it will be a blessing upon you.

Craig Babb