2nd Sunday after the Epiphany Year B
In so many ways, it was the unlikeliest meeting. Nathanael didn't even want to meet Jesus. He was just doing a favor to his friend. I mean, really? The one of whom the prophets spoke? Some self-appointed teacher from that back-woods little town of Nazareth?
It turned out, though, that this guy, Jesus, at least had a sense of humor. He quipped right back-- Glad to meet you, Nathanael . . . an Israelite without deceit. Now, that might have been a backhanded compliment. Maybe Jesus was saying he appreciated Nathanael speaking his mind--didn't take offense at the whole Nazareth comment.
But we who are overhearing this conversation 2000 years later realize there's a double meaning here. Jesus' calling Nathanael an "Israelite" brings echoes of the Jacob story into the conversation. The Jacob of the Hebrew scriptures, Esau’s brother. You remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob, the deceiver, who would be named Israel after wrestling with the angel all night. But Nathanael is an Israelite without deceit. Well played, Jesus. Score one for the guy from Nazareth.
Wait a minute, though! Nathanael's smiling, but his mind is racing.
Jesus wasn't there when Nathaniel made the Nazareth comment. How did Jesus know what he had said? But even more - How did he know me?
Jesus says he saw Nathanael sitting under that fig tree, had he seen me before or was it some kind of spiritual seeing?
So--Philip was right after all. Now Nathanael is convinced. The phrases come pouring out of Nathanael's mouth. You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel. Jesus confirms it with yet another Jacob reference--this time to Jacob's ladder. He says, "The angels will go up and down on the son of man." He's talking about Jacob's dream at Bethel where heaven approached so close to earth that the inhabitants of the two realms could meet. Now in Jesus, not just in that place, Bethel, but in a person, the realm of God has come near. Heaven and earth have come together.
Heaven is where love reigns. Where there is room for all God's children at the table. Where nothing is broken and no one's missing. Not at all what earth is like. We know what earth is like. A glance at our news app shows us a world that couldn't be more different than God's realm of love . . . war, division, hunger, hatred, and alienation.
And yet, in Jesus, the unexpected happens. And Nathanael sees it. Heaven gets a foothold on this earth. And all because his friend Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Jesus found Philip and said “Follow me,” and Philip invited his friend Nathaniel to “come and see.” And that is how the Jesus movement got started and how it continues to this day. Jesus says follow me and we tell our friends, come and see.
This is the heart of both John’s telling of the good news of Jesus and the heart of our faith as well.
The day after John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove and remain on him, John sends two of his disciples to follow Jesus, one of whom is Andrew, who in turn tells his brother Peter about Jesus and then brings Peter to meet him. The day after that, Jesus finds Philip and calls him to follow. And he does. Not only that but then Philip, like Andrew before him, goes and tells someone else about Jesus.
Except the one Philip tells is Nathanael, who doesn't appear nearly as amicable as the others. In fact, he comes across as a skeptic and then some, with his smart aleck remark about Nazareth. Jesus turns him around rather quickly though with his own comeback about the Israelite without guile. But what intrigues me is Philip. Because I'm guessing he knew what kind of guy Nathanael was. After all, you don't just go tell anyone when you meet the messiah, or do you?. Andrew goes and tells his brother, and I'm guessing Philip went and told a really good friend, Nathanael. Which means that Philip should have known better. He should have figured that Nathanael would scoff, or make fun of him, or ignore him all together. But he goes and tells him anyway. I think that's very interesting. Like this news was too good not to share, especially with such a good friend, even though he might make fun; it won’t be the first time … or the last.
And I think what's even more important is Philip's reaction to Nathanael's dismissive remark. He doesn't retort something back, as I think I might. Or get defensive, as I probably would. Or walk away hurt or angry, vowing never to share anything with Nathanael again. No, he doesn't do any of these things. Instead, he just takes it in stride and answers, "Come and see." Which is interesting, because the day before, that's exactly what Jesus said when Andrew and another guy asked Jesus where he was staying.
Come and see. Such simple, open, and inviting words. Words, I think, that sum up not only the heart of the Gospel of John but the whole Christian life. For this, according to John, is the only fit response to having witnessed the grace and mercy of God take shape among us, enfleshed in the babe of Bethlehem, crucified at Golgotha, raised on the third day...all for our sake.
Come and see. These are the words we're invited to say to others who are seeking something more from life. Who are hungry to have a place where they can be accepted for who they are, to become part of a family who will love them no matter what, to find a God who is the definition of love.
The Christian life is about our shared experience of the holy, where heaven and earth kiss and we discover the emerging reign of God in our midst as we learn to love each other following the way of Jesus. This is Jesus call to follow him, to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.
Come and see.