“The Son does what he sees the Father doing …” (John 5:20).
In John’s profoundly theological Gospel, Jesus presents himself in seven successive signs as I AM, the name for God revealed to Moses from the burning bush. Jesus is the physical manifestation in time of the ineffable, timeless mystery of God. Another way of saying this is that Jesus is the Son, the perfect visible representative of the invisible Father.
Jesus tells his critics, who are bent on destroying him for blasphemy, that he is only doing what he sees the Father doing. As the Father creates, so Jesus creates by making mud from earth and spittle to smear on the eyes of the man born blind. As the Father was manifest in the Spirit hovering over the waters at creation, so Jesus is the primordial wellspring of living water for the thirsty Samaritan woman. As the Father gives life, so Jesus will raise Lazarus.
The analogue is theological, but it is also very human. We imagine Jesus growing up in the care of Joseph the carpenter, father and son together in the wood shop or on a construction site. “Watch me, son,” says the father. “Do what I do.” The father mentors the son, empowers him with an understanding of the trade, models for him how to build a secure structure, a useful artifact.
The message of the Gospel to us as disciples is simple: Watch the teacher. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and do what he does. The imitation of Christ has always been the core of Christianity. So the first challenge is to see Jesus at work in our lives and in our world. Get close enough to him through daily prayer and attention to the many prompts that come through his Spirit guiding us through our own tasks.
Watch me. Do what I do.