At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry we find the question “Where are you staying?” pronounced on the lips of two young men eager to draw close to the one indicated to them as the “Lamb of God” (Jn 1: 35-39). Their desire, hidden in this question, spurred them on to following the Lord to wherever he would stay. An echo of this experience is captured later in the encounter the disciples, travelling to Emmaus, had with the Risen Christ as their hearts burned within them asking Him to “stay with us” (Lk 24: 13-35). Who was taking the initiative in both of these episodes? It was not the disciples, but rather it was Jesus. Let us look at Jesus’ way of drawing out the deeper desires of his disciples and see how he wants to fulfill these desires.
John the Baptist took the stage in all four Gospels as an attractive figure, baptizing many people in the Jordan River and announcing the coming of the Messiah. His humble role is pretty brief though as he exits the stage after he clarifies that he is not the Messiah and recognizes the one who is. Thus, he sends his disciples to go after Jesus, who was passing by. Trusting in John’s testimony, they follow the footsteps of a stranger who is revealed as the Master Spiritual Director.
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks them, just as he asks us. Ermes Ronchi writes,
“When he asks this question, the Lord does not question my competencies, my knowledge of theology, but rather my humanity. We are all able to respond to him: the weak and the strong, the instructed and the ignorant, lay people and priests and religious alike. We are all the same in front of these words. In these words, Jesus concedes the right to be insecure, to not have everything perfectly clear. He is the master of my heart and he turns, first and foremost, to my desire. “What are you looking for?” which implies: “What is your strongest desire? What do you desire more than anything in your life?” Jesus comes to evangelize our desire, he is the true teacher, interpreter of desire, and he teaches us that we should not settle, but have a hunger and a thirst for more” (The Raw Questions of Jesus (Nude domande del vangelo) p. 15-16).
The disciples answer his question with another question. Their question reveals their desire though. “Where are you staying?” they ask him. They want to be where he is. He is still a stranger to them, but they want to get to know him and be where he is. They trusted John’s testimony and now want to experience for themselves who this man is and what he is about. Jesus has taken the initiative as he drew out of them their deepest desire with his question. As his question is met with their question, a fruitful dialogue ensues. He does not give them an easy answer (for example,“down the road”, “in Nazareth”), but rather he helps them take a step towards discovering, for themselves, a fulfillment of their desire. “Come and see”. The Master Spiritual Director left them complete freedom, he doesn’t even call them in the way we see in other passages of the Gospels (Mt 4:19, Mk 1: 17, 2:14, Lk 6: 12-16). They were the ones who came up to him and started following him. He acknowledged their desire and and drew it out more as he then let them make a personal decision to respond to his invitation.
Fast forward three years of ministry with a culmination of the cross and resurrection and we encounter a similar scene on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus comes up to the two disciples conversing about what they seen in Jerusalem, which shook them to the core, and he starts to walk with them. Like a good spiritual director, he takes them where they are at and accompanies them spiritually. Jesus uses the method of questions also in this circumstance to start a dialogue with them.
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They ask, “Are you the only one who does not know what has taken place here in these days?”
“What sort of things?”
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene…who was handed over to a sentence of death…But we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel…Some women have astounded us: they did not find his body and seen angels who announced he was alive.” (Lk 24: 17-23)
Jesus calls them out of their hardness of heart to a belief in what the scriptures foretold and he reveals how it was all meant to happen this way. As Jesus starts to walk in another direction and move on, they express the desire burning in their hearts, “Stay with us.” In the other passage, the disciples of John the Baptist ask where Jesus is staying. These disciples do not ask this kind of question, they immediately ask him to stay with them. Both circumstances appear to reveal the disciples as the ones taking the initiative, but it is Jesus who has drawn out of them their desire to be with him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the section dedicated to prayer, unfolds this dynamic of the Lord’s initiative of seeking us even before we seek him. “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. (#2560) “God has a desire of our desire, he desires to be desired” (Ermes Ronchi).
So where is Jesus staying? To what does he invite us to “come and see”? John’s Gospel gives a more profound sense of Jesus’ dwelling place as an abiding in the heart of the Father (cf. Jn 15:10). He wants his disciples to be with him in his “Father’s house” where there are many dwelling places (Jn 14:2). When one of his apostles asks him the way to his Father’s house, Jesus reminds him that he already knows the way. His disciple already found the way on the day he began following Jesus and desiring to stay with him, for Jesus is “way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him” (Jn 14: 6).
Even if we are accompanied by a spiritual director or mentor, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is ultimately our master spiritual director. Let him ask you the same questions he posed to the disciples in the Gospels (Jn 1:35-39; Lk 24: 13-35)
“What are you looking for?”, “What are you discussing/what are you thinking as you walk along?”, “What sort of things happened to you?”
A good way to pray with these questions might be the “ARRR prayer”:
“Acknowledge” what is going on in your heart (thoughts, feelings, desires)
“Relate” it to the Lord (tell him about it)
Take time to “Receive” from him a word or consolation that he wants to give you as you sit in silence
“Respond” to what you have received by responding to his call to adhere to him more closely and follow him in concrete and spiritual ways.