What Are You Looking For? – A Sermon On John 1:29-42

“What are you looking for?” That’s the question Jesus asks in today’s gospel (John 1:29-42).

We’re now two weeks into the new year and I wonder, what are you looking for in 2023? It’s been seven and a half months since the May 24th shooting. In what ways has that tragedy changed or challenged what you are looking for? When you look at your life, relationships, and world today, what are you looking for? 

Is what you are looking for today different from what you were looking for a year ago, three years ago, ten, twenty, thirty years ago? If so, how has it changed? And if not, why hasn’t it changed? 

Jesus is asking a question that has the power to reorient our lives and begin changing our world. What if you and I asked ourselves that question every day? What if asking ourselves that question became our morning practice? What are you and I looking for?

Our answers to that question probably reveal more about us, our life, relationships, and world than the things we are looking for. It’s a diagnostic question. Whatever it is we are looking for sets a particular course and direction for our life. It asks something of us. Is your life on course? Are you headed in a good direction? If not, maybe it’s time to change what you are looking for.

How would you answer Jesus’ question today?

Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m looking for. The longer I live and the older I get, the fewer answers I have. Life has a way of calling into question our answers, and so does Jesus. I think that’s what he’s doing for the two disciples of John the Baptist who are following him. Twice they’ve stood with John as has pointed to Jesus and said, “Here is the Lamb of God.” They have their answer and they follow it only to see Jesus turn, look them in the eye, and ask, “What are you looking for?” What do you want? 

It’s not enough for them to say, “We’re looking for the Lamb of God.” That’s John’s answer. Jesus is asking them to look within themselves, to face themselves, and to answer for themselves. No one else has or can give us our answer. That’s our work to do. It’s part of growing up and taking responsibility for our lives. And that can be a hard and slow process. 

Nearly thirty years ago I was seeking the answer from my priest. He said, “Mike, get out of your head. This isn’t about finding the answer. It’s about following the question.” And do you know what I said? I asked, “Do you have a suggestion for a book about that?”

About eight years ago just before I left on sabbatical my spiritual director said, “Mike, do not go looking for a wise monk you think has your answers. He doesn’t. They’re already within you. Trust your own journey.” You know who I went looking for, right?

For the last several months I’ve been talking with a new friend who is a rabbi. I recently asked him a question and he said, “Do you want the rabbi’s answer to that question?” “Yes, please,” I said, sure that he would offer me some ancient Jewish insight. He said, “I don’t know, Mike. What do you think?” 

While those anecdotes might be about me, I don’t think they are unique to me. Don’t you sometimes just want the answer? Haven’t you sometimes wished for or thought that there is some magical other out there who has your answers and can fix your life? I think those anecdotes probably apply to all of us. In each of them I hear echoes of Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” 

I suspect most of us would rather have someone give us the answer (even if we don’t accept or follow it) than to have to bear the question. Yet, throughout the gospel accounts Jesus rarely gives direct answers. And he doesn’t in today’s gospel either. When the two disciples ask, “Where are you staying?” Jesus doesn’t give them an answer. He doesn’t give them an address or information about where he’s going, what he does, who he is, or how he spends his time. He extends an invitation, “Come and see.” 

He’s inviting them and us to live and experience his question. It’s a simple question but it’s not easy to answer. I think it’s a question we often avoid or deny. To answer his question means facing our deepest desires and longings, feeling our hurts and losses, looking at what we’ve done and left undone, acknowledging the emptiness within, imagining or dreaming a different life, inquiring about what is of ultimate importance, naming what shapes and forms our lives. And that can be risky and scary. It means getting real and being honest, vulnerable, and open. When you consider all that, “What are you looking for?” 

Are you looking for healing and wholeness? Come and see. Are you looking for forgiveness and reconciliation? Come and see. Are you looking for hope and courage? Come and see. Are you looking for justice and change? Come and see. Are you looking for light and clarity? Come and see. Are you looking for life and life abundant? Come and see.

I suspect you get the idea. In whatever ways you might answer Jesus’ question his response is the same, “Come and see.” It’s the promise that there is somewhere to go and there is something to see and experience. 

I wonder what Jesus’ invitation for your life is today.

What are you looking for today? And what would it take and be like to get up and go look?

Image Credit: Photo by Zhu Liang on Unsplash


  1. I tried to give a donation but the system sent me a ‘failed’ message. At an important time when I had a big decision to make, a wise nun suggested that I do an Ignation imagination exercise of this passage. It was a powerful experience and I have used it again! Thank you for your wisdom and insights.


  2. Thanks for this great reflection. I like the variety of answers you offer in the last paragraph. I like that all of them devolve from feeling that the answer will be trustworthy. And also, that we want all of those things, sometimes focusing on one goal more than another, but who we need to be connected to has “bigness” — the Divine Mystery– to help give us those answers, in the moment before we turn the weathervane to a slightly different goal. THANK YOU.


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