We all have so many teachers, so many “rabbis” upon which and upon whom we place our attention. This passage made me cry as I thought through what it really means to leave all other rabbis behind. Friends, parents, authors, counselors, professors, political pundits, news anchors, voices on the internet, health and exercise gurus, philosophers, teachers and ministers of religion–all these and so many more can be our “rabbis.” All can be good. But none are Jesus.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means teacher), “where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come and you will see.”
So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
I was in college when I first learned about the culture surrounding itinerant teachers (rabbis) in first century Israel. Until then I had always considered Jesus’ manner of calling disciples to himself a unique aspect of his messiahship, but in reality it was quite a common thing to do. It was a cultural norm for young men to attach themselves to a teacher for months or years, live with him, follow him, and learn from his words.
An Itinerate teacher (rabbi from the Hebrew word for “great”) was a master of Jewish religion, values and culture. Students attached to rabbis were called disciples. The article I will link to at the end of this post show rabbis as dependent upon the hospitality of the people, teaching in homes and in the open air, and moving about from place to place.
WHERE ARE YOU STAYING?
Envision all this when in this passage you see John’s disciples (for John was a rabbi as well) approach Jesus to ask where he stays. You are witnessing rabbinical culture in practice. “Where are you staying?” they ask. “Come and see,” Jesus replies. In other words, “follow me.”
It’s fascinating to imagine Jesus as one of many rabbis, as one of many teachers with a following of disciples, traversing the countryside with explanations of Scriptures and proclamations drawn from his own unique point of view. Jesus’ proclamation was this: “the kingdom of God is at hand! The kingdom of God is among you! The kingdom of God is within you! Taste and see! Come and follow! Believe in me! Sin no more!”
We’ll see as we continue through the Book of John that Jesus’ message grows in intensity and deepens in meaning as the years pass by–in the beginning he merely says, “the kingdom of God is near!” But by the end of his life he is leading his disciples into the heart of his who he is and what he is about: “Believe in God, believe also in me,“ he will say. “I and the Father are one. He who believes in me will have eternal life. Before Abraham was, I am.“
SURELY WE MUST FOLLOW HIM
All of that is to come. Today, in this still-beginning of a story, Jesus is just another itinerant preacher from Galilee, a rabbi sinking his feet into mud on the the edge of the Jordan, weaving through crowds and catching they eyes of men. John’s disciples remember seeing him the day before when he came to be baptized, and they remember hearing John cry, “now this one is greater than I!”
“If this one is greater than our own rabbi,” they seem to muse, “then surely we must leave ours to follow him.”
What can I say, but that the same holds true for you and me.
Here is an interesting article on Jesus as a rabbi. I disagree with the grave concern for the modern day church which the author holds, and I emphatically disagree with his claim that our hope as Christians rests in seeing Jesus in a greater Jewish light. Our hope, like our faith, begins and ends in Jesus himself (Author and Perfecter, remember?), and by all accounts of Scripture Jesus is a Savior who meets us where we are. Nevertheless, I love to read the historical context surrounding the Scriptures, and this article presents rabbinical custom in a fascinating way.