By: Rev. Paul Scalia
Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?”
God begins His plan for our salvation with a question: Where are you? (Gen 3:9). Then, upon entering the world to fulfill this plan, He asks another. At the Jordan, at the beginning of His public life, Jesus turns to the disciples following Him and asks, What do you seek? (Jn 1:38). Thus, one part of salvation is God’s search for us; the second part is our search for Him.
The proclamation of the Gospel begins, not with a doctrinal statement or a moral command, but with a question: What do you seek? It is a question that goes directly to the heart, because the human heart seeks by its very nature. Saint Augustine summarized this most beautifully and famously: You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. We were created to seek Him Who seeks us.
But sin has damaged our search for Him. We are created for happiness, and we instinctively seek it. But sin has blinded us to the true happiness for which we are created — the happiness of God Himself. The wounds of sin do not halt our search. They simply derail it, driving it in directions other than His. We seek rest in false gods.
We err in our search for Him, either by excess or by defect. By excess, when we try to satisfy the heart’s longing with the world’s offerings — in effect, attempt to quench a spiritual desire with a physical solution. So we chase after the world’s wealth, power and pleasure, hoping that it will satisfy our inner longing. We think that more will satisfy — more things, more control, more entertainment, etc. This misguided search leads to grave depravities — to abuse of drugs and alcohol, to addictions, to deceit and theft, and so on.
We err by defect when we settle, when we numb ourselves to the heart’s cries for fulfillment. We make ourselves comfortably numb to that longing. We make peace with the world and prefer its mediocre comforts to the agony of a heart that desires more. Rather than suffering the pains of a heart’s longing, we anesthetize ourselves.
What do you seek? Jesus’ question serves as a corrective to the heart wounded by sin. It reminds the tepid and mediocre that we have this longing within us, and we should heed it. The question prompts the misguided to turn aside from false gods and consider what truly satisfies the human heart. Just as hunger and thirst signal that we need food, so the longing of the heart reminds us that we are created for higher things. We have to stir ourselves to pursue them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they have not silenced the heart’s longing. And just as our physical hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by cotton candy and soda, so also the heart’s hunger and thirst cannot be satiated by the world’s offerings. We have to seek true nourishment.
And He leads us still further, revealing that we ultimately seek not a what but a whom. In the Garden of Gethsemane He confronts his persecutors with another question: “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth” (Jn 18:4-5). With this, Jesus reveals that He Himself is the goal of our search — even of those most opposed to Him. And in God’s Providence, His foes proclaim this truth despite themselves. Even as they trample the desires of the human heart, they mysteriously confess that they seek Jesus of Nazareth. The heart longs not for something, but for Someone, for Him. God alone satisfies.
Likewise on Easter morning, in yet another garden, our Lord puts the same fundamental question to Mary Magdalene: Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? (Jn 20:15). Mary represents our human nature wounded by sin and longing for healing. Jesus asks her these questions to stir up the awareness that she, who had sought happiness and peace in so many wrong places, ultimately seeks Him as her Savior.
What do you seek? Whom do you seek? We are the disciples at the Jordan, seeking something more but not knowing what. We are the soldiers in the garden, hostile to our Lord because He has become inconvenient. We are the Magdalene at the tomb, weeping for our sins and seeking a Savior. In each case we need to hear His voice, allow the questions to penetrate, and reply with appropriate zeal, repentance, and hope. Thy face, Lord, do I seek (Ps 27:8).