What Do You Want?
Text: John 1:29-42a
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“What do you want?” It’s an important question. Understanding that question will unlock everything you could ever need to know about a person. It’s our wants, our desires, those things that draw us and pull us toward them that shape our lives. A young man considering his future will choose a course for the next few decades based upon what he’s drawn to. If he’s attracted to money, he’ll chase it with a career that pays well, with an education or training that pushes him toward that career. He’ll build fences around his wealth with every decision, giving time and effort to some things and not others. A young woman will alter the path of her life for the things she’s drawn to: the things she wants, whether it’s career or family or fame or glory or power. “What do you want?” It’s the question central to who we are: What do we desire? What do we find worthy of our time or attention? In short, what do you love?
It should come as no surprise to us then that this is the first question Jesus asks of those who would be His disciples. Two of John the Baptizer’s disciples were standing on the banks of the Jordan River when they saw their teacher point to Jesus and proclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This wasn’t even the first time that their rabbi, John the Baptist, had said that about this Jesus of Nazareth. So when they heard their teacher announce this again, they followed behind Jesus. Whether it was out of miraculous instant faith or curiosity leading to faith, or if it was just to see what all the fuss was about, they followed behind Jesus. That’s when Jesus turned around and saw them. He asked, “What are you seeking?” We clean that up a bit in our English translations to make it simple and almost literary sounding. But the sense of what Jesus is asking is, “What are you chasing after? What are you pursuing?” In short, He asks them, “What is it you’re looking for? What do you want?”
It can be an uncomfortable question, can’t it? Telling someone what we truly want can be exposing. People hide their motives all the time, including us. We dress it up in carefully chosen words, we hide our actions behind other actions. We give secondary reasons for what we’re doing, when deep down we know the real reason. Ask a thief why they steal and you might get an answer about their upbringing or inequality or their need or something else. But the reason they don’t give is the reason at the heart: they steal because they want it. They want something so much that they’re willing to go around the law to get it. Ask someone why they lie or cheat or betray and you’ll get a laundry list of justifications, usually to excuse themselves, but the real reason—because we want to—is the one we don’t give, because it makes us vulnerable. It opens up who we are at our hearts, and very often that’s not something that we’re ready to share with most people. The things we want, our loves, are close to our heart, the most vulnerable part of our being, and they’re not always pure or holy.
So these disciples, Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptist, decide not to answer Jesus’ question, “What are you seeking?” They decide to deflect and answer His question with a question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus is too clever to be sidetracked with our little tricks we try with Him. Bur rather than calling them out, rather than dissecting their wants and loves right then and there, He instead says, “Come and you will see.”
This is a tricky little turn of phrase from Jesus Himself. “Come, you two, and see. I’ll show you what your teacher John the Baptist was talking about. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To see? Come and I’ll show you the mysteries of God’s kingdom. Come, follow me, and you will see wonders and signs that I am the Lamb of God.”
So now, as we begin our walk with Jesus anew, begun with His birth in Bethlehem this Christmas, with His baptism at the Jordan last week, as we begin to follow behind Him all the way to Lent and the cross, then Easter and the empty tomb; now I ask you, “What are you seeking? What are you chasing? What is it that you want? What is it that you love?”
There’s a movie based on a sci-fi book named Roadside Picnic. In it, there’s a guide who leads a people to a room where, once they enter it, their deepest desires will be fulfilled—the thing they love the most will be given to them. But as they get closer, they start to worry. Do they actually love the things they think they love the most? It’s an interesting study in humanity. For how often do we think we love and want one thing, but it turns out there’s something else we hold deeper in our hearts? How many times does the man who thinks he wanted to earn a lot of money in his life find out that what he really wanted was freedom, or time with his loved ones, or peace? How many times does a young woman choose a college major for whatever reason, but comes to find out it’s not what she wanted at all, in spite of thinking it was what she passionate about?
And what about you? What would your answer be if I were to ask you, “What are you seeking? Why are you here? What is it that you want—really and truly at your most fundamental level?” Comfort, health, power, respect, money, control, peace, ease? I’d wager that whatever you answer is just part of the truth, at most. Very often, it’s too hard for us, broken by sin and corrupted by temptation, for us to see what we actually want the most, what we crave, what we need.
And so Jesus has mercy and answers you, “Come and you will see.” You will see what it is that you made for. You will see what it is that your heart has been hungering and thirsting for. You will see what it is that your entire being—body, soul, and mind—is craving. You will see the desire of nations. You will see what Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, what Moses and all the prophets longed to see. You will see Jesus. You will see the kingdom of God in Him. You will see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Jesus, you will see love—the greatest love that anyone has had. You will see what you were made for: you will see your God.
That’s the staggering miracle of Epiphany. We see God in Jesus Christ. We see His kingdom come through the miracles and signs and wonders performed by Him. We see the peace that passes all understanding as He comes to us and forgives our sins and the sins of the world. And although it’s hidden under flesh and blood in Jesus, hidden under bread and wine here in the Sacrament, under water and word, under voice and call and ordination, it’s still Him. It’s still Him giving you all that you wanted, even if you didn’t know it was what you wanted at your core. He’s still giving you forgiveness, healing, joy, peace, and life.
What are you seeking? What do you want? What do you love? Come to the Lord’s table and see. See the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sin and gives you peace. In the name of Jesus, the Son of God. Amen.