Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 14, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
If you have ever had one of those times when you just could not wait to tell somebody something then you can imagine the excitement felt by Phillip. Jesus had said to him “Follow me?” There was something about Jesus that captured him. No wonder his friend Andrew had been excited. John had pointed Jesus to two of his disciples as the Lamb of God. One of those men was Andrew who followed Jesus and was invited to spend a day with him. Afterwards he rushed to tell his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah. To have this same Jesus invite Phillip was something. He rushed to tell his friend Nathanael to join him. “We have found him whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.”
I expect Nathanael ears pricked up hearing his friend’s excitement. Then Phillip closes saying the one is Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. On hearing this Nathanael immediately shows he is let down. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He experiences an instantaneous shift from great interest to ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ disappointment. It is quite an opening for what will be an encounter that teaches us much about ourselves and Jesus.
First, I do say, Nathanael’s question is not a bad one. Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament. St. Matthew’s “He will be called a Nazarene” is probably more a play on Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Looking it up in a Concordance I confirmed for myself the word for green shoot or branch was netsar.
Second, I also say Nathanael’s gut reaction is understandable, but misplaced. I remember a major difference between in my high school near Jacksonville, Florida and the small towns of Northwest Nebraska. After some community dinner a family invited me to attend, I went with them to a basketball game. I saw players support each other when good or bad plays occurred. I did not see any styling and profiling for the crowd. I heard cheers about one’s pride in one’s school and not why the other school was lousy. In Jacksonville when playing Paxon we “chewed Eagle stew” while they “flushed Fletcher”.
It made me think that God might have had reasons for Jesus being raised by people like Mary and Joseph amidst the people of Nazareth than coming from what people like Nathanael might expect, the religious center Jerusalem or the political center Caesarea. Both would be our kind of choices for religious reform or political liberation.
Third, I credit Nathanael for accepting Phillip’s invitation to “Come and see.” Nathanael is open to fresh evidence that something good could come from Nazareth. Unlike Sam I Am in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, Phillip does not have to try a number of ways to cajole Nathanael into checking Jesus out. Nathanael readily accompanies him to check Jesus out.
We have learned an honest openness from Nathanael. We learn a tremendous amount about Jesus in what follows.
While turning water into wine in Cana in John Chapter 2 is called the first miracle. In this earlier encounter with Nathanael we learn how much Jesus knows about each person. Seeing Nathanael approach he announces, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
Nathanael is wondering how Jesus could know his character. He asks “Where did you get to know me?” Which I have to say is smoother than “What gives? You know I have never seen you before?” It is definitely better than showing being hurt by Phillip, “Have you been talking to this stranger about me?” Jesus response is he saw him under a fig tree before Phillip ever came to him. Watching him he knows him.
Now that can be pretty scary stuff, someone without speaking to you or with anyone about you, knows essential stuff about you. With Jesus this is good news.
Note that Jesus does not slam him for not enthusiastically joining Phillip. He calls him honest and a person who does not deceive. It is OK that Nathanael’s honesty includes doubting Jesus could be the Messiah of Moses and the Prophets. In this meeting Jesus shows one can share openly and in trust with God. Nathanael does not have to breathe a sigh of relief for doubting. Jesus has praised him for being forthright.
Knowing that is not only freeing, but it makes it easier for Jesus to meet one where one is and move on from there. I recall my first spiritual director. She told me to “Be honest with God. Tell Christ what you are willing to let go and tell him what areas you are not ready of even unwilling. When I made a list I found that getting them out in the open made it easier to see the limits I was putting on God in providing assistance like wanting support from certain people I have known rather than accepting it from new people God may be placing in my path.
Jesus indicates how far being open to what God can do might take one. Nathanael learning he was known at a distance is minor compared to what he is positioning himself to experience through Jesus. Jesus closes “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
With Nathanael, people continually discover much good can come from Nazareth. Remembering the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we have been reminded a young man decided to not study to be a lawyer. He felt it would not be following God properly after surviving a storm. He took up a Christian community living and was eventually assigned theological studies. He knew God operated as a divine judge and had high moral standards. He knew he did not measure up. Knowing the right answers was not enough. He was honest about his fears and doubts. All the time he was invited to come and see Jesus. In time God’s Word revealed the deeper truth of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ. The man, our founder Martin Luther, became a great experience and expounder of that love.
This morning that remembrance commends practicing Nathanael like honesty and openness to God Only God knows the limit of such practice. Amen.