“Among you stands one you do not recognize…”
– John 1:26
Sometimes we think too much. There’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot (often aimed at me) that describes how many of us handle particular situations: “paralysis by analysis.” We want something, we’ve been looking forward to something, we’ve sought God and pressed the Heavens with our prayers to get something, but we actually get in the way of receiving it because we’ve already decided what it looks like. We’ve planned out how it is supposed to happen. We’ve worked out all the details, and our expectations are focused like lasers on that particular answer.
And, sometimes that’s fine. There is a place for being specific in our prayers and in exercising our faith. But if we’re not careful, we can be blinded by our own expectations. We can become so set in our perspective of how things are supposed to work out, that we miss the answer right under our noses.
Are You the One?
In John’s Gospel, that’s the scenario we see when the Jewish leaders came to John the Baptist asking if he were “the one” (John 1:19). Was he the Messiah? Was he Elijah? Was he the Prophet foretold by Moses whom they were to obey? John gives them another answer. No, he’s the messenger preparing the way, he’s the voice calling in the wilderness. And the one they’re looking for, the one their hearts are desiring after, is already among them in the crowd. They just don’t recognize him.
We have the benefit of historical perspective now — “hindsight is 20/20.” But back then, God’s people weren’t sure what the Messiah was supposed to look like. Scripture was filled with images and phrases describing him, but from so many different angles that a clear understanding just wasn’t possible. Like trying to see clearly through a multifaceted crystal, no one knew exactly how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Was he a mighty warrior-king along the lines of King David? Was he a priestly leader who would purify the faith and restore proper Temple worship? Was he that Suffering-Servant who took upon himself the divine punishment of the people? Wasn’t he supposed to come from the heavens with angels in his wake, and restore Israel to its rightful place among the nations? In fact, at that point in history, many believed that there would be two, perhaps even three, different messiahs, different leaders who would accomplish those different tasks. With all these images, all these details, all these preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would do, it was understandably too easy to overlook that rough, calloused carpenter from Galilee.
Don’t we do exactly the same thing when we’re seeking something from God? Don’t we block ourselves from accepting the gift he’s offering us simply because we’ve clamped down the inner openness necessary to recognize it? We’re looking, our hearts are aching from desire for that miracle only God can supply, that thing we’ve been hounding him for day after day. And it could be that we’re stumbling right over it.
Ignorance is not necessarily an obstacle. Everyone starts there. Even John the Baptist didn’t know who the Coming One was until he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus. The difference between John and those religious leaders who questioned him was in their attitudes. They already “knew” what they wanted, what they were seeking, and exactly what it was supposed to look like. John, on the other hand, remained open to let God do things HIS way. John stayed receptive to the Spirit’s role in identifying the fulfillment of the promise: “THIS is the one.” Instead of being blinded by predefined expectations, he allowed God to reveal the answer. So he saw. They didn’t.
What Do You Want?
Later in the story, John’s disciples see Jesus and start following him around (Jn 1:37). Jesus turns around and asks them the question we all need to answer for ourselves: “What do you want?” Wanting is not a bad thing. Seeking after a heart’s desire is not a sign of selfishness. Since God loves to give us the desires of our heart, it helps if we have some idea of what we actually want. Telling God how to do it, though, is another matter. And these two men demonstrate the right attitude: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” They are respectful and show their willingness to stay close. Jesus’ response is the same he offers us today when we come to him with our urgent longings: “Come, and you will see.” It’s an open invitation to relationship. “Come, spend time with me, and you’ll find that thing you’ve been looking for.” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t answer their question. Sometimes, the timing isn’t right, sometimes we’re not ready for the answer, and sometimes he wants us to readjust our priorities. But he doesn’t turn them down, he doesn’t reject them or turn them away. The answer is always found in relationship with him.
That’s our key today. We want things. We need things. Our hearts longs for satisfaction in some area. And we can either play the role of religious people, so blinded by our own expectations that we miss the answer right under our noses. Or we can follow the example of John and his disciples who waited for God’s Spirit to reveal the answer in his own time, in his own way.
When we’re eagerly searching for that heart’s desire, looking here and there, constantly questioning “are you the one, is this it?”, we need to relax a bit and let God do his thing. He asks us, “What do you want?” He WANTS to give it to us. But we’ll only see it if we stay in touch with him. “Come with me, and you’ll see.” Without that openness, without that receptivity to the Spirit’s pointing, we can miss the very thing we’re looking for, even if it’s right under our nose.