This Sunday’s Lectionary Passage: John 1: 43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Most of us love the stories of Jesus calling the disciples. I have this image of Jesus walking around, just an ordinary guy calling ordinary people to become a part of this new way of being, this new way of living, this new Way of understanding God and how God relates to us. But don’t limit it to “The Twelve”, as if they are some sort of elite management team of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was always calling people. Some stayed on the edges of the movement, not really wanting to get too involved. Some wandered off, only to return when it was convenient or when they felt like they wanted to be a part of it. (They probably showed up for Christmas Eve and Easter!…kidding!) And there were some that chose not to participate at all, opting instead to continue down their very carefully-planned life’s path. But some, a few, went all in, becoming disciples and walking with Jesus through it all.
In the Gospel by the writer we know as John, this account follows the beginning of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. He left Jordan and John the Baptist points Andrew and Simon Peter toward Jesus. They follow him and then we’re told that Jesus found Philip, who was from their hometown. Now in this week’s passage, we’re told that Philip then tries to recruit Nathanael. But Nathanael was seemingly unimpressed, almost skeptical about what Philip was telling him. Nathanael was the first person that we know that dared to ask questions about Jesus and this new Way. I mean, “who was this guy?”, he thought. “Why should I follow him?” But notice that Philip doesn’t give up. He doesn’t argue with Nathanael. He doesn’t berate him for not getting on board immediately. With great faith, Philip’s response to the question was not a hard-baked answer but rather an invitation: “Come and see.”
We are all Nathanaels. We have questions. Sometimes we have doubts. Sometimes this does not make sense at all. And despite what some current-day religious folks will tell you, that’s ok. God never laid out some definitive answer or even one pathway to walk. God never desired that we be right; God desired that we have faith. Those two things are not interchangeable. Faith is not a math equation where we’re trying to pursue the right answer to understand everything. Faith is a journey full of questions and doubts and twists and turns in our pathway that lead us not to the answer but to the next step. That’s where God is trying to lead us—the next step toward relationship, toward oneness, with God.
And look at what Nathanael did. He wasn’t completely convinced but he turned and he looked. And he saw. He saw who Jesus was. After all this time of searching, all this time of wandering around lost, he found what he had been looking for. And, more than that, Jesus found him. The passage ends by reaching back into what Nathanael knew, back into the Scriptures that he had known even as a child. It ends with an allusion to Jacob’s dream at the place we call Bethel. Jacob dreamed of angels traveling up and down a ladder (actually, more of a ramp or stairway or maybe even a Mesopotamian ziggurat). It is an interesting image, implying that our faith pathway is not a “one-way” road but rather a way that the spiritual and physical realms are connected as we travel back and forth with our searching and our questions. And Jacob’s response to it, “Surely the Lord was in this place—and I did not know it!”, is our response over and over and over again.
Our world is strange right now, I know. We thought the new year would bring us relief from Covid-19 and just days into it, we are met with an insurrection on The Capitol. Are you kidding me? It’s easy to question, to even feel lost. It’s easy to find yourself overtaken by fear and anger. I know I have. But when I read this Scripture, what struck me was the notion of being “found”. As I mentioned before, I don’t think of our pathway to faith as one limited way. God is everywhere, inviting us to “come and see”, come and see everything, come and see all ways and all people and all incarnations of God. Maybe lostness doesn’t happen by getting “off the path”. Maybe lostness happens when we become so convinced that we have the answers, when we become so convinced that we are right, that we shut down or, even worse, we lash out. I pray for all of us. I pray for those that were victims of that attack on The Capitol. And I pray for those that for whatever reason felt so compelled by their “rightness” (and some, dare I say, by their “whiteness”) that they would be willing to throw everything away to force what they think on others.
God is so incredibly patient with us. God lets us wander around, sometimes aimlessly, searching and trying and trying again. God lets us test our faith, and defy our faith, and find our faith yet again. And in those incredible moments when we, too, feel that “surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”, God celebrates that we have found it again. And God reminds us that we were always found. We just have to “come and see”.
Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God…They prayed and wrestled and sought…in season and out, and when they had found [God], the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.” (A. W. Tozer)
Grace and Peace,