Inviting Curiosity


January 7, 2018

Inviting Curiosity


John 1:29-43


The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?” They said, “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?” He replied, “Come and see.”


So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent the day with him. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and followed Jesus. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ ). He brought Simon to meet Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).


The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was also from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.


Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.” Nathanael responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said, “Come and see.”

* * * * *

I don’t remember when I began to believe that curiosity was a virtue. It’s not one of the ‘Classic’ virtues, like temperance, prudence, courage or justice, or even the ‘Cardinal’ virtues like charity, patience, kindness or humility. Some might even argue that curiosity isn’t a virtue at all. It’s dangerous, as in, “curiosity killed a cat.” You might even say that curiosity is what got Eve and Adam into trouble way back in the Garden of Eden.


I get it. I really do. I’ll never forget the time I was watching my nephew Matthew when he was a baby. He was really little – not even walking yet, just crawling. We didn’t have many toys in the house and his mom had given him her set of keys to distract him. No sooner did he have them than he headed straight for the electrical socket to see what would happen if he stuck them in.


Clearly, curiosity can get us in trouble.


But I still think it’s a virtue, and an important one at that.


In John’s Gospel, the story of Jesus’ ministry begins with curiosity. Let me back it up a bit to set the stage – let’s look at the way John’s Gospel begins. We’ll be spending several weeks with John’s Gospel, and I think it might help to take a broad look. I think it will help see the role that curiosity plays, and the element of surprise.


The Gospel of John starts with the beautiful poem or hymn we’ve heard so often, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” It’s the passage we read every Christmas Eve right before we light the candles and sing “Silent Night.” It’s where we hear those beautiful words of assurance, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”


There is mystery here. The Gospel begins with mystery.


Then it switches to more of a narrative, and begins with John the Baptist. John the Baptist was an important figure in those days, with a following all his own. The religious leaders were leery of him, understandably enough, and wondered what he was up to. So they sent a delegation to check him out. In those days the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah to come, the anointed king who would come at the end of time to bring in the kingdom of God. Some itinerant preachers claimed to be the Messiah, which made the established religious leaders exceedingly nervous.


So they asked John outright, “Who are you?” The very first sentence of the narrative of John’s Gospel begins with a question. “Who are you?” It will be the question that dominates the Gospel from beginning to end – though the question will quickly change from focusing on John to Jesus. “Who are you?”


John is forthright. “I am not the Messiah,” he tells them. Nor was he Elijah, returning, or a new prophet like Moses – which were other hopes people carried at the time. No, John explained, he was the one preparing for the Messiah to come.


“I baptize with water,” he told them. “But there is someone you should notice; someone so great I’m not even worthy to tie his shoes.”


I’m not the one you’ve been waiting for. I am just the one preparing the way.


The very next scene, the very next day, John sees Jesus coming toward him and declares, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the man I was talking about! The one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit! This,” John declares, “This is the Son of God.”


The next day – where our passage this morning picks up – the next day John sees Jesus going by again, and again says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” This time, a couple of men hear John’s testimony and decide to see what’s going on. This time it’s Jesus who asks the question: “What are you looking for?” They ask where he’s staying and Jesus answers, “Come and see!”


Come and see.


I think that invitation is at the heart of the Gospel of John.


Come and see.


It begs us to be curious. Curious enough to go after this One who has come. Curious enough to ask for ourselves, “Who are you?”


It isn’t a universal response, curiosity. Right from the beginning, John lets us know that openness is not a given. When Philip discovers Jesus, he goes to tell his friend Nathanael. “We found the one we’ve been looking for,” he tells him. “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael’s response is complete disinterest. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”


And Philip says to him, “Come and see.”


Come and see. It’s an invitation to be curious, curious enough to go after it.


One of the truly unfortunate things about religion these days – Christianity in particular – is that it has the reputation of being condemning and forceful. My way or the highway. I’m sure you’ve seen the billboards threatening damnation if you don’t follow Jesus. I have never seen the appeal, frankly. I can’t think of a bigger turn-off to a potential convert than telling them, “Jesus, or else.”


All Jesus says to these first disciples is, “Come and see.” What his followers say to their friends is the same. “Come and see.” An openhearted invitation to come and see for oneself. It begins with an invitation to be curious.  


I think the appeal to curiosity is in itself life-changing. It brings out the best in us, a certain openness, a certain hopefulness. Curiosity requires humility, the admission that I don’t already know it all, that there might be some new experience or information or perspective that is worth having, worth knowing, worth understanding. Curiosity opens us up.


It’s not so much open-mindedness as openheartedness. Being open-minded to me implies respect of someone else’s opinion, being tolerant of differences, even while I hold to my own beliefs and values. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s to be commended. But the kind of openness of curiosity is something more. It’s a path to discovery, the kind of discovery that cracks your world wide open. It’s opening to something you didn’t even know existed. 


Curiosity is baked in to our DNA, I swear it is. That openness. It’s why kids are naturally curious, right? It’s all new, everything’s new. They don’t know how snow feels on your skin, or how salt tastes, or how a dog licking your face can make you giggle. Until they’ve had their tummies tickled, they don’t know what ‘tickle’ even feels like. They don’t know the word ‘cookie,’ much less how yummy it is, or how it melts in your mouth. It’s all new, everything’s new.


That curiosity, it’s what makes teenagers tick, too. That daredevil ‘I’ve got to try this out.’ It’s the attitude that makes parents of teenagers cringe. “You don’t know what you’re getting into! Be careful out there!” And we do need to be careful. It takes time to learn what you can trust, and what really is dangerous.


But isn’t discovery great?


There was a time in your own life you didn’t know everything. Do you remember that? Do you remember what that feels like? How exciting it is?


You know, I think the opposite of curiosity is cynicism. It’s understandable enough how we get there in life. You’ve heard it all before, you’ve seen too much. You’ve gotten burned often enough you’re skeptical. You’ve lost trust in people. Why bother? It’s Nathanael’s response to hearing about Jesus. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As if he knows all too well… We have our minds made up.


But what are we missing, if we do that? What are we missing?


Curiosity is a virtue, I believe. It is a choice. Almost like a chosen naivete.  It assumes there’s more to discover, more wonder, more beauty, more joy than we have tasted yet. The world hasn’t ended. Our lives aren’t over. It asks the question, “I wonder what else there might be?”


“Come and see,” Jesus whispers. “Come and see…”


Rev. Karen Chakoian