Eureka!

The old story goes something like this. Archimedes, the renowned mathematician of Ancient Greece, had a problem to solve. The king of Syracuse had been given a beautifully crafted crown that was supposedly made of pure gold. But he suspected the goldsmith of sneaking in some silver. How could he know for certain, without destroying the crown? His advisers puzzled and pondered, but to no avail.

Archimedes, however, had a flash of insight — while taking a bath. He noticed how the water level in the tub went up when he got in; the water was being displaced by his body. He suddenly realized that a crown would do the same, regardless of its shape.  If the crown had a lighter metal like silver mixed into it, it would displace more water than a chunk of pure gold of the same weight. It did, and the hapless goldsmith was executed.

Archimedes is said to have shouted, “Eureka!” — Greek for “I found it!” — when the solution suddenly dawned. The story, of course, may well be apocryphal. But it comes to us a classic parable of scientific insight and the triumph of imagination and intellect.

That same Greek verb occurs several times in the story of Jesus’ first disciples in John 1. In the other gospels, Jesus recruits his disciples as they’re fishing. But John’s tale is different. It begins with John the Baptist pointing to Jesus and declaring him to be the Lamb of God (vs. 36). At this word, two of his own disciples leave him to follow Jesus instead (John 1:37). One of two men is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The other man is unnamed; many believe that this is John, the eyewitness author of the gospel that bears his name.

Having spent some time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother Simon and tells him that he and his friend have found the Messiah (vs. 41). Later, we’re told that Jesus finds Philip (vs. 43), who in turn finds Nathanael (vs. 45). Philip makes a claim similar to Andrew’s: “We’ve found the one!”

But who found whom?

EurekaOne way of telling the story is that these five men are all “seekers,” looking for answers, looking for the Messiah. At some point, they have their “Eureka” moment: “I’ve found him!” Much of the work of apologetics — the rational defense of the faith — depends on appealing to human reason and intellect.

But there’s another side. True, in some sense, the men are seekers, waiting for God’s Messiah. Jesus even asks Andrew and his friend, “What do you seek?” (vs. 38). But they don’t seem to have a clear answer. Indeed, the way John tells the story, nobody really “finds” Jesus. Instead, they are found by Jesus, or by someone else who brings them to Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dismissing the role of apologetics, nor of human reason. But the gospel is not about humankind’s ability to find God. It’s about being found.

The question that the story puts to us is not whether we can find God. Rather, the question is, once we’ve been found, will we follow?