The juxtaposition in literary grace between John’s prologue on the eternal Word (v. 1-14) and our introduction to the person of Jesus toward the tail end of John 1 couldn’t be more jarring if it tried. From the loftiness of the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14) we find John the Baptist not wild-eyed, beard matted with honey and locust legs, but rather stilted, awkward almost, as he tries to explain to his disciples who this “Lamb of God” is. “I myself” is a phrase I’m pretty sure I’ve never uttered myself 😉 and yet, John says it three times in four sentences. It’s as if we replaced the poet of the first fourteen verses with a systematic theologian for the next twenty. Anyway, what this really strange interaction between John and his disciples manages to do is a) introduce an adult, already baptized Jesus into the narrative, and b) pique the interest of the two disciples, Andrew and an unnamed disciple, so that they take on their Rabbi’s awkwardness and just start to follow Jesus.
Eventually, Jesus feels them on his heels, turns around, and asks a most appropriate question, “What are you looking for?” Caught in their own weirdness (I can say this, as one of my spiritual gifts is awkwardness), one of them blurts out a random question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Despite the overall oddity of the language in this passage, John does seem to always be doing something with the narrative. This question, strange as it may be, begins a short riff on the Greek word, meno, which is variously translated as “staying” and “remained.” If we were going to stay stilted, I would have preferred the translators have used the word “abide” instead.
This image of Jesus abiding is helpful to me as I think about what it is that Jesus was called to do during his active years of ministry. Though he was always on the move and had no place to lay his head, part of what Jesus modeled for the generations of Christian leaders to come was an abiding spirit. Even when the narrative seems clear that Jesus intended to quickly move from one place to another, we find many examples of Jesus being present to and abiding with an interruption. His was a ministry of presence. He abided with those whom the world passed quickly. He spent time with the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the oppressed. He shared precious moments with those whom the world said weren’t worth anything.
The Book of Acts tells the story of the first generation of Christian leaders also abiding. Paul abided, sometimes for years, in places to which he had been called. Philip abided in Samaria and later in the chariot next to the Ethiopian Eunuch, neither places that a good Jew would spend much time. James the Just abided in Jerusalem despite growing pressure to leave. So too, as disciples of Jesus in the 21st century, we are called to abide. Whether we are clergy or lay leaders, part of what it means to follow in the model of Christ is to be present, to abide despite discomfort, and to see what God has planned next. In John 1’s stilted language, we learn that the Lord abides, and we should too.