"I believe the keys in understanding this passage are, on the one hand, to NOT treat it as simply a story of how Nathaniel met Jesus; nor, on the other hand, to get all mystical and obscure. John wants us to SEE Jesus, to COME to him, and thereby to receive LIFE in its abundance."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 1:43-51, David Ewart, 2012.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some Thoughts on John 1:43-51
This week we shift across to one of our Johanine readings for the year. The passages in John's Gospel, according to most scholars, follow a carefully crafted narrative that steers people away from the proclamation of John the Baptist and towards the revelation of Jesus.
The passage also refers to the calling of the two disciples. In reading the whole account you can see that they bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah - the "Son of Man." In this theme we have the notion of the promised king of Israel being presented in the holy titles being used. At the same time the competing notion that such a vision of Jesus' ministry is all too narrow.
Another theme has to do with the calling of the disciples. The image of Philip and Nathaniel who being seen by Jesus, were called by him, and then the blessings of life as they do so. Moreover, their own witness to Jesus as the "Son of Man." Seeing and proclaiming who he is and revealing to the world that this is the one to come and see.
Now what has most intrigued me about this passage comes from Raymond Brown's text on John (vol 1, 59ff). And that is the images that are being linked to this story from ancient Israel's story. Brown illustrates well, I think, that Jesus in the story is connected to the image of Jacob's ladder (shekinah), the image of the divine chariot (merkabah) of Ezekiel, Bethel itself, or the rock (the first rock God created upon which Jacob laid his head). What a wonderful set of traditions; none of which in and of themselves are completely convincing scholastically. Nevertheless, I love them!
What really resonates with me as I hold in tension the symbols floating in the text and the movement away from John the Baptist combined with the "seeing" imagery of Philip and Nathaniel is that we have quite a wonderful passage about Jesus as the center of Christian life and discipleship. Jesus is central and he is out in the world for us to see.
What I thought is that we preachers spend a lot of time telling folks we don't see Jesus. Think about that for a moment. We tell them we don't see Jesus in their actions, in their spending, in their lives. We don't see Jesus in the church. We don't see Jesus in the world. We don't see Jesus here and we don't see Jesus there. Think about the last 10 sermons you gave and I wonder how many of them spent time telling people how we don't see Jesus.
In fact I wonder if the amount of preaching about not seeing Jesus in people's lives has to do with the numbers of people who don't want to listen to us preach about not seeing Jesus and so don't come to church.
What if this Sunday we actually told our Episcopalians and those who might be visiting with us that we see Jesus? We see Jesus in them. We see Jesus in their lives and in their stories. We see Jesus out in the world. What if we made a concerted effort this Sunday to not give "Bad News" and we tried to avoid telling people how we don't see Jesus? What if this Sunday we gave them "Good News?"
What if this Sunday we preachers were solidly about seeing Jesus Christ out in the world? If we like Philip and Nathaniel were able to tell our neighbors, brothers, sisters, and fellow church goers that we see Jesus and we want them to see Jesus too?
It would be news if we and our church goers left our churches and went looking for Jesus out in the world and found him in places, images, and things like rocks and said, "Look here is God out in the world. Here is how God connects us. We call this connection to the most high God - Jesus." Generous and holy naming would become our work out in the world and people would hear from us a new story; perhaps a story they have been longing to hear.
Our work as evangelists is not sitting around waiting for people to come into our churches and ask us to show them Jesus; then in some theological discourse of via negativa telling them where we don't see Jesus. Or even worse, preaching to them about how they aren't doing it right and how we don't see Jesus at all in their lives and in the world.
Our work is to go out and generously listen, generously name Jesus in the lives of others, and generously invite people to come and see the good news as proclaimed in our Episcopal Church.
I wonder if we might together, as preachers and parishioners, promise that for the next month we are going to take on as our Epiphany discipline the work of seeing and announcing Jesus to those around us; and that we would do that with positive and affirming statements.
A Little Bit for Everyone