What Do You Want? | Rev. Kevin Antlitz

John 1:35-42

Sean: “So what do you really wanna do?”

Will: “I wanna be a shepherd. I wanna move up to Nashua, get a nice little spread, get some sheep and tend to them.” …

Sean: “Look at me: what do you wanna do?”

Will: [Silence]

Sean: “I ask you a very simple question and you can’t give me a straight answer… ‘cause you don’t know.”

This dialogue is from one of my favorite movies of all time: Good Will Hunting. Much of what makes this movie excellent is the character development that occurs during counseling sessions between Sean (Robin Williams) and Will (Matt Damon). In this poignant scene, Sean finally gets to the bottom of things with Will by asking what is perhaps the most difficult question for anyone to answer: at the end of the day, what is it that you are really after? What do you want?

Will is utterly exposed. He knows he doesn’t know. Despite the library of knowledge stored in his brilliant mind, he is ignorant about himself in the ways that matter most. So what does he do? He replies with a silly (albeit hilarious) answer as a deflection strategy. In many ways, this scene captures the entire film. Maybe it also captures all our lives?

What strikes me about this scene is how it illuminates what’s going on when Jesus calls the first disciples in the Gospel of John. The scene begins with John the Baptist seeing Jesus walk on by and declaring, “Behold, the lamb of God!” Then, as if magnetically attracted to Jesus, two men start trailing him. We read that “Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What do you want?” (1:38). I imagine the surprised disciples bumbling through this deeply introspective question. Having no better answer, they ask Jesus where he’s staying. “I wanna be a shepherd.” They are following Jesus but they don’t really know what they want.

It is profoundly illuminating that this is the first question Jesus asks his disciples in John. In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith suggests that this question is “the first, last, and most fundamental question of Christian discipleship…It’s the question that is buried under almost every other question Jesus asks each of us. ‘Will you come and follow me?’ is another version of ‘What do you want?’” This is the most important question because what we want, what we desire, shapes our choices, behaviors, and ultimately the trajectory of our whole lives.

At the end of the day, I think St. Augustine was correct: because God made us for himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. This is another way of saying that our most fundamental desire is peace. Ultimately, we desire peace with God and from this flows peace with others and ourselves. If St. Augustine is correct, the truest answer to the most fundamental question is peace with God through Christ (even if we are unaware or unable to articulate it). Apart from the reconciling work of the lamb of God, such peace is elusive. I think this is why the disciples seem to instinctually follow after Jesus, even if their heads are slow to catch up with their hearts’ desire.

So, what is it that you want? I encourage you to contemplate Jesus’ essential question today and throughout this Lenten season. As you do so, let this exquisitely beautiful version of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), Op. 11 composed by Samuel Barber give shape to your prayers.  

Agnus Dei                                Lamb of God

qui tollis peccata mundi         who takes away the sins of the world

miserere nobis                           have mercy on us

Agnus Dei                                Lamb of God

qui tollis peccata mundi      who takes away the sins of the world

miserere nobis                        have mercy on us

Agnus Dei                                Lamb of God

qui tollis peccata mundi      who takes away the sins of the world          

dona nobis pacem grant us peace

Kevin Antlitz is Advent’s curate serving as an Assistant Pastor. He loves to read and travel. Nowadays, that mostly takes the form of wanderlust while reading the Travel section of the Sunday NYT. Kevin and Susan have three children and a (very) naughty dog. They recently moved to North Michigan Park.