Even though Jesus issued a number of commandments for his disciples to follow, He didn’t begin by commanding, lest He frighten them off. They already had plenty of commandments and ordinances from the old law, and we can assume that they weren’t eager to add to them. So Jesus began with an invitation; if they liked what they saw, then they’d be open to future commandments and counsels.
When the Baptizer pointed out to his own disciples the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, they rather shyly began to follow the Lord, at a respectable distance. At this moment, “follow” has its literal meaning (and not that of being a disciple to a master), since they hadn’t even met Him yet. Jesus turned around and saw two men walking behind Him, perhaps exchanging low but excited whispers, and He asked, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). This is the first question He asks us too, as we hesitantly walk behind Him in wonder and curiosity, and maybe a bit of trepidation. What, really, are we seeking when we look toward Christ? Wisdom, love, security, peace, mercy, salvation? All of the above?
Their response was none of the above. They made small talk, as if commenting on the weather. “Uh, where are you staying?” Jesus read their hearts, however, and knew they weren’t interested merely in his address. He offered his first invitation: “Come and see.” This invitation wasn’t for them to check out the place at which He happened to be lodging at the time. He was inviting them to something much more profound.
The Greek word for “stay” also means “dwell” or “remain.” Jean Vanier comments on this section of the Gospel in Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. “We have already seen this word when John the Baptizer said that he saw the Spirit, like a dove, ‘dwell’ upon Jesus. If John uses this word to signify ‘staying’ in a particular place, he uses it even more to signify a friendship where we ‘dwell’ in another person. A ‘mutual in-dwelling’ is a permanent, dynamic relationship between two people dwelling in one another. So when the evangelist says here, ‘They came and saw where he was dwelling and they dwelt with him that day,’ this has special significance. It certainly means the actual, physical place where Jesus was staying, but it also suggests what we will discover in a more explicit way later on: that the real home of Jesus is in the Father. He dwells in the Father’s presence.”
To this, then, Jesus was inviting them: the mystery of his union with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the inner life of the Holy Trinity. Come and see that He is the eternal Son and Word of God, that He has come to this world as its Savior. Come and drink the living water that He will give; come and eat the Bread from Heaven. Come and stay where He stays, in the Heart of God.
So John’s disciples stayed with Jesus and became Jesus’ disciples. We do not know how He reached their hearts that afternoon and evening, what deep emotions He stirred in them, what light and peace He granted them, what love He gave them the capacity to experience, but by the next day they were exclaiming: “We have found the Messiah!” Jesus won them over with a gentle invitation, for He saw that their hearts were ready (He had to use a different approach for self-righteous hypocrites). This is how He would like to proceed with us. Is your heart ready to follow Him, to stay with Him, to go with Him into the presence of the Father? You may be a little fearful about where that journey will take you, but the invitation is open.
Having come to recognize Jesus as the One Who Is To Come, the first disciples sought to share the Good News with others. They learned well from their Master how to go about doing this. Philip told Nathanael, who at first offered a bit of resistance. Philip then simply said to him: “Come and see…”