Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, Rabbi,” —which means Teacher—“where do you live?” “Come and see” he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. it was about the tenth hour.
John 1: 38-8
The call of the first disciples, as John presents it, lays out for us, in few verses of text, the universal dynamics of the summons and response to discipleship. As Jesus passed by, John the Baptist, who is herald of the Lord’s coming, “stared hard at him.” Having discerned Jesus’ identity, John then fulfills his own call to point others to Jesus: “Look, there is the lamb of God.” No doubt based in large part on their admiration and trust of John, the two disciples followed Jesus. As will be true of many others as the gospel proceeds, these two disciples of John experience an attraction to Jesus which awakens their desire to follow and be with him.
What follows, in true Semitic fashion, is a dialogue, a certain discernment of vocation. The first thing that Jesus asks of the two is to express what it is that they want. The power of this question is two-fold. First of all, it is often very difficult for us to know, much less express what we really want. Secondly, even if we do come to know what we really want, it is extremely threatening to speak it out. Clearly we have entered a world here that is very different from the ordinary discourse of social convention. In daily life, we might be able to ask our companions in a restaurant what they would want for dinner, but we are most unlikely to ask them what they would want of us. And should someone ask us that question, we would, in all likelihood find ourselves tongue-tied in shock and embarrassment.
Jesus, however, makes clear that the cost of discipleship, as the Fundamental Principles say, “is your very life.” As Jesus makes clear in Luke’s gospel (Luke 14:28), it is important that we count the cost before setting out on the journey of discipleship. We must want Jesus above all else, or we shall never be able to maintain our commitment and complete the journey. So, the first step of discernment lies in our being honest with what we really want. While it is the first step, we must constantly throughout life, even day to day, repeat to ourselves the question: “What do you want?” As the Fundamental Principles exhort us: “Day be day you will need to renew your response.” Each morning we must ask ourselves, “What do I really want today?”
The disciples of John answer Jesus’ question with a question: “Where do you live?” Whatever it is that they see in Jesus, what attracts them to him leads them to want to live where he lives. When I was a high school student, there was a Brother who was Headmaster of the school. As Headmaster he was a bit of a remote figure, which I came to recognize in later years was due to his temperament and way of being as well as the office he held. In the course of those four years, I had very little first hand, person to person experience of him. And yet, when I would see him and his sense of self-possession and steadfast attention to his work, to care for others, to the duties of his life, I would wonder where he lived, and I found myself desiring to live in and from that place. Throughout the moments of my life, this experience has repeated itself, in those both older and younger than me. There are persons who live so authentically in and from who they really are that they evoke in me and in others the desire to live in such a place. In their question, the disciples are saying that what they want is to live where Jesus lives. It is to live where God lives. It is to live the original life that we are in God. Thomas Merton describes this life in as us “This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty [that] is the pure glory of God in us.” What the disciples who are following Jesus really want is to live their real lives, which means to live where Jesus lives.
Finally one becomes a disciple not just by seeing where Jesus lives but by staying “with him the rest of the day.” Now it is only the tenth hour when this encounter occurs, so it is pretty much the whole day that the disciples stay with Jesus. The disciples do not ask Jesus if they can take the first century equivalent of night or online courses in order to fit the following of him into their busy schedules and personal agenda. They leave everything to follow him; they go and inhabit the place where he lives. The first letter of John tells us that the one is righteous who loves. Love in the scriptural sense, however, is difficult for us. We must learn to love, not by information but by reformation and transformation. We must go and inhabit the source of love to learn it. As our tradition understands it, the great mystery of life is that Divine love is the source and energy of all that is. To know life, which includes knowing ourselves, all others, and the world, requires us to recognize and then to realize in our lives “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” To do this, however, requires perhaps the most painful and difficult of acts, to sit still and to abide where we really live, which is where Jesus lives.
Goodness and life are certainly attractive to us. We are always pursuing them, in both their true and false manifestations. The call to discipleship is a call to a striking honesty and humility before ourselves and God. When we ask ourselves what we really want, the answer may not always be a pleasant one. Yet, to get to our deepest desire requires that we face our self-centeredness and pettiness along the way. To learn the way of discipleship and the lessons of love will require us to abide in what St. Catherine of Siena calls “the cell of self-knowledge” which she learned through her years spent in the solitude of her cell. While we may not be solitaries, we need to learn in the course of our lives to live with and in ourselves, that we may thus live where Jesus lives. It is a difficult and even painful road to learn the difference between what we want and what we need. Our great desire, hidden under all the false and temporary ones, is for life and for love. These are both found in the same place, the place where Jesus lives and where our own true life is to be found.
People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.
To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is—solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for the one who loves. . . . it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in oneself, to become world, to become world for oneself for another’s sake, it is a great exciting claim upon one, something that chooses one out and calls one to vast things.
R. M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, pp. 53-4