Come and See
1 Samuel 3.1-10 John 1.43-51
The season of Epiphany is the poor relation of the Church Year. Perhaps starting in January doesn’t help – especially a January like this one. Epiphanytide lacks the zest of Advent, the joy of Christmas, the earnestness of Lent, the drama of Passiontide, the triumph of Easter and the sheer workmanlike green steadiness of the months and months of Trinity.
An epiphany, is an ‘ah ha’ moment, a revelation, a manifestation, a making aware of something of God that’s already there, but we’ve missed because we are too caught up with whatever it is we are caught up with. Last Sunday we heard Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus by John – an epiphany, a manifestation, an ‘ah ha’, of who Jesus is ‘You are my Son, the Beloved’. And today’s gospel is part of John’s account of the calling of the disciples. So, what might discipleship in relation to revelation, epiphany, mean? Here are a few thoughts drawn out from Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus.
But first, just before this incident in John’s gospel (we are still only in chapter 1, please note), we’ve been listening to that most provocative figure in the New Testament, apart from Jesus, John the Baptist. The religious leaders, the bishops and vicars and chaplains, have been to see him, to check him out – is he the Messiah? They’d like clarity; they’d like a Mission Action Plan. Now John is already quite a well-established figure – he has a profile – wow factor – celebrity status – nobody has yet even heard much of Jesus. So to John they say, ‘Are you it?!’
What does John do? Claim the credit, promote his credentials, relate his rather remarkable birth narrative, which also involved an impossible pregnancy and some mighty angelic intervention as well, by the way? No, he points to the one who will come after him, whose shoelaces, he says, he is not worthy to undo. The next day when Jesus happens by, John says to two of his own disciples, ‘that’s the guy!’, or more traditionally: ‘behold the Lamb of God’. Off his own disciples go to follow Jesus. In artistic representations, John the Baptist is often depicted pointing away from himself. John isn’t worried about staff retention and maintaining his own fan base, or how many ‘likes’ or ‘hits’ he’s got. John is one of the few people in the gospels who really understands that it isn’t about him. It is about Jesus.
One of those witnessing all of this is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He brings Peter to meet Jesus. Then he meets Philip the next day who is from the same home town as Andrew and Simon Peter. Philip goes and gets Nathanael. And so on as the rest of our reading continues this morning to the end of chapter 1 of John’s gospel.
Nathanael, however, doesn’t think Jesus’ c.v. fits the bill of the Messiah. There was probably some first century joke that we don’t have now about nothing good coming out of Nazareth. But we mustn’t be too hard on Nathanael – the gospel writer isn’t. But note Philip’s response to Nathanael’s caution, prejudice and scepticism: ‘Come and see’. One could well conclude from this biblical passage that being a ‘witness’ is not about coming up with a good rationale, about coercing your listener, about winning an ‘argument’, about arm wrestling your hearer into submission. Nathanael’s doubts are not dismissed or lampooned. So, he comes, with his mild contempt and sturdy scepticism.
Nathanael’s confession of faith seems just a bit too enormous to have been prompted by what Jesus said to him – as Jesus himself remarks ‘you think that’s something – because I said I saw you under a fig tree – well you ain’t seen nothing yet!’
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We don’t exactly know what Nathanael saw when he looked Jesus in the face, but it’s a pretty sure bet that he saw himself laid bare, and knew somehow that Jesus knew him through and through. Even so, note, Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Get your act together and then follow me,’ or ‘Shape up so I can love you because I can’t until you do.’ Jesus accepts him as he is. Jesus knows Nathanael, receives Nathanael, contempt and skepticism and all, but he won’t leave him that way. If Nathanael had wanted to stay the same, he’d have had to stay under that fig tree. There, or some equivalent place – wherever it is we go, in order to stay the same.
The danger for us who have accepted the invitation and follow Jesus is that we’ll jump up too quickly, come along too easily, say yes because all these centuries the Church has been saying it and all these years we’ve been saying it too. But to say ‘yes’ too easily, too much out of habit, is to say it as if we really have seen Jesus, really know who Jesus is, or worst of all, as if he is somehow our Jesus; that we ‘found’ Jesus, rather than Jesus ‘finds’ us.
But he’s not ours, or the Church’s. We are his. And it’s not just this great guy out of the past we’re going to meet in this Eucharist. It’s Jesus now, living, our contemporary. And when we raise our eyes and look into that face; we stand before his love and justice with all our secrets laid bare. But somehow it will be a face that we’ve always known: a face we can face. We’ll know him when we see him and he’ll certainly know us. And then, in his eyes, probably, we’ll see ourselves as we are – and that will be hard – and he’ll take us as we are – and that will be even harder for us to take – it is always hardest to believe we are loved for who we are – not who we pretend to be. But he won’t leave us under that fig tree; he’ll take us as we are, but he won’t leave us as we are. Amen.