Epiphany 2, Year B, 17th January 2021.
John 1. 43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And 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.’
Thought for the Day
According to Craig Brown’s biography of the Beatles, Paul McCartney met George Harrison on the bus going to school. Paul noticed George had a guitar with him, and was so impressed by his playing he took George to meet John Lennon, insisting they let him join their band. George was only 15, and John though he was too young, but once he heard George play....................
In 1997 A documentary film maker noticed a young sous chef working in the kitchen of a London restaurant. The chef was Jamie Oliver, and in 1999 ‘The Naked Chef’ series appeared on the BBC, a star was born.
From such ‘Brief Encounters’ history is made.
I doubt Nathanael, who we read about in our gospel for this Sunday, was planning a life as a disciple of Jesus when Philip runs up to him and starts shouting that he’s found ‘The One’ they were looking for, ‘The One’ Moses and the Prophets talked about, ‘The One’ their people longed for.
Oh, and by the way, he’s from Nazareth. The mention of this insignificant village in an out of the way part of Galilee provides a reality check. As far as Nathanael is concerned there’s no way Philip’s enthusiasm might be genuine given Jesus comes from Nazareth.
To Nathanael it sounds as unlikely as two of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century meeting the way to school on a Liverpool bus, but that is how things happen.
Philip meets Nathanael’s scepticism with a simple request ‘Come and See.’ It’s the same invitation Jesus made to the disciples of John the Baptist when they met just before the encounter we read about this Sunday. ‘Come and See.’ It’s enough to interest Nathanael, so he comes.
Yet before Nathanael has chance to meet Jesus, or hear him speak, Jesus sees him, astounding him further with the declaration ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Jesus further confounds him by informing him he had already noticed him sitting under a fig tree.
Nathanael’s response is no less astounding, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus confirms his declaration, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
It’s not easy to understand the nuances of this encounter or how the early Church for whom this gospel was written received and understood what John the writer presented for them.
It may be even harder for us, living so long and so far away from the events described, to work out what this story might mean for us.
On the other hand we know John wrote for a community living far from Palestine, sixty or seventy years after Jesus, for whom the places, people, religious and social customs he wrote about were a closed book. His gospel, unlike any other, reveals who Jesus is through a carefully constructed series of ‘signs’ such as the miracle at the wedding in Cana, or Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4, the only occasion in the gospels when Jesus explicitly confirms his identity as Messiah.
For John, and his community, how someone comes to faith is an important question; they cannot go to the places where Jesus lives, meet or listen to anyone who knew Jesus when he was alive, all these are long gone. What John has to offer are these stories, which he says come from a disciple who did know Jesus, whose accounts are known to be true. (John 21.24)
In John it’s these encounters that matter – people meet Jesus and discover that their lives are changed – and they go and tell someone else what happened. From person to person is how the Christian message, and the Church, grows and spreads.
Philip goes to Nathanael not trying to somehow ‘prove’ his experience as a way of persuading his friend; he simply invites him to ‘come and see.’ When Nathanael voices his scepticism about people from Nazareth Philip doesn’t argue, he simply says ‘come and see.’ So Nathanael came, and saw for himself, and his life was changed.
Of course, we cannot invite people to ‘come and see’ the historical Jesus any more than John did, but that’s not the point of the story. A generation or more after the event John remains convinced that the Jesus he writes about can be known and experienced through the witness of those living the life of faith in his own generation. He can still invite people to ‘come and see’ the living Body of Christ, the Church.
That might not seem such a straightforward offer for us in 2021. What might we imagine we are inviting our friends to ‘come and see?’ Do we feel confident that our church would be somewhere we would recommend as a place where Jesus, and faith, might be found? There seems to be to be an increasing scepticism about faith, religion and Church in contemporary Britain and, if we are honest, throughout history there have been times when the Christian Church appeared to have little to commend it.
But should our failures, past or present, prevent us from following the pattern we read about in John’s gospel? What prevents us from following Philip’s example and inviting someone we know to ‘Come and See’ ?
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