by Father Mike Stubbs
Where are they? Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 1:35-42, unfolds in an undetermined location. It appears to be a public place, since John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his disciples as he walks by: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
One of those disciples, Andrew, then finds his brother Simon so that he, too, might follow Jesus. But John’s Gospel does not bother to specify exactly where all this takes place. Are they on the outskirts of a field or in the village marketplace? It does not matter to John’s Gospel.
On the other hand, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, in their parallel passages, make it clear that Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when he calls Andrew and Simon to follow him as his first disciples: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people” (Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20; Lk 5:1-11).
All four Gospels situate the calling of the first disciples close to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and close to the beginnings of their Gospels. At the same time, John’s Gospel heads in a different direction than the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This should not surprise us, since John’s Gospel often diverges from the others.
As already pointed out, John’s Gospel does not concern itself about where the calling of Andrew and Simon takes place. Instead, it directs our attention to another location, the place where Jesus is staying: “They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and stayed with him that day.”
On one level, we might understand the passage to mean that Andrew and Simon hung out with Jesus for a few hours. That is entirely plausible. But on a deeper level (and in the Gospel of John there is always a deeper level), we can understand the passage to refer to the spiritual communion with Jesus that the disciples will enjoy. Throughout John’s Gospel, the verb “stay,” also translated as “remain,” describes that personal relationship with Jesus which characterizes the disciple. For example, later on Jesus will instruct his disciples: “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15:9-10).
As disciples of Jesus, Andrew and Simon can look forward to this deeply fulfilling and enriching relationship with Jesus. They will grow spiritually. That is the direction that Sunday’s Gospel reading is pointing to, in describing the call of the first disciples.
In contrast, the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke clearly situate the call of the first disciples along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Those Gospels ground the call of the disciples in their work as fishermen, to emphasize a different aspect of discipleship: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” As disciples, Andrew and Simon will share in the ministry of Jesus.
In a sense, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke stress the work of being a disciple, while John’s Gospel stresses the rewards of discipleship.