Questions That Satisfy
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watch Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" 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 they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" - which is translated Christ. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas" - which is translated Peter.
Archbishop Fulton sheen once observed that the questions of God are more satisfying than the answers of man. Reflecting on the seemingly simple questions God poses in Scripture bears more fruit in our souls than studying the supposedly profound answers the world gives.
We could go further and say that, in a similar way, reflecting on the inspired questions of man in Scripture produces greater self-knowledge than the answers of the world. Scripture’s questions do not confound but satisfy.
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, in Our Lord’s first encounter with His disciples, we find an example of such satisfying questions: “Jesus turned … and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” (Jn 1:38)
In one respect we can understand this as the kind of exchange we might encounter on any given day (“May if help you?” … “Where are you from?”). But the Holy Spirit inspired the human author to record these words, so they must have a deeper meaning than the typical worldly exchange. Indeed, these questions capture the dialogue between God and the human heart.
First, Our Lord’s question to us: “What do you seek?” Clearly, we seek something. The history of man is but the record of this search, this striving after something. And the tragedy of man is not that he seeks something but that he does not know what – or whom – he seeks. We think we can satisfy our longing and end the search by way of wealth, or power or pleasure. Sadly, most people would gladly cut the search short with a comfortable life that numbs them to deeper questions.
The greatest sorrow is not to seek something but to convince ourselves that we desire nothing more than the world gives. Human history provides too many examples of how wealth fails to satisfy, power corrupts and pleasure leaves the human heart hungry.
So Our Lord questions us: “What do you seek?” He asks us to go deeper into our own hearts (Duc in altum!) and examine the goal of our search more profoundly. When we respond to this question and do in fact examine ourselves, we will confess that no worldly goods can satisfy our hearts, that we desire more than the world can give – that the world is not worthy of us (cf. Heb 11:38). Our Lord’s question in effect condemns all the false gods we use to fill our desires and calls us to pursue Him who alone satisfies. What we truly seek is not a thing but a Person.
The question of Our Lord’s first disciples provides the answer to His question. It gives voice to the desire of every human heart: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” The disciples address Him as Rabbi, or Teacher, because we desire truth – not just pleasant sounding words and fancy rhetoric that numbs or distracts us but the truth. Thus the first step to fulfillment is the willingness to be taught.
But we do not want to be taught for merely intellectual reasons, just to know interesting things. We want to know how to live. The question “Rabbi, where are you staying?” is not about geography but about the purpose of our lives. Where does God dwell? We want to know because He created us to dwell with Him.
The first man and woman were created in intimate union with Him. By Adam’s sin we lost that union, that dwelling with God, and ever since the human heart has cried out, “Where do you live?” So the disciples’ question answers His, What do you seek? We seek to live with God. Not merely to know about Him but to know Him so intimately that we dwell with Him and He with us.
Finally, Our Lord answers the disciples not with an address or an invitation to go someplace. Rather, He invites them to Himself: “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). Our hearts receive the answer to their question only by a relationship with Christ. Mere study will not accomplish it. We must follow Him. And God now dwells among us – by His Incarnation, by His grace, in His sacraments, in His Church – so that we can dwell with Him eternally, and come to the blessed end of our search.
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