“Come and see for yourself”

Posted: January 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

Epiphany 2B


John 1:43-51

 “Come and see for yourself”

Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Nathanael 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.”

The text appears to tell us how it works: Jesus found Phillip and said to him ‘Follow me”. The Christian faith is passed from person to person. It is a meeting of people. That’s how it started with Jesus, and that’s how it’s been for 2,000-plus years. But what was it about Jesus that caused people to believe in him and follow him with no evidence? This is an important issue for us some thousands of years after his death. How can we replicate this sort of meeting today? We need to know what it was about Jesus that made people follow him. Well of course we don’t know. Had Philip and Nathanael known him before? Had Philip heard about him from Andrew and Peter, since they lived in the same town? The text doesn’t say. It only says that Philip followed Jesus straightaway, then told Nathanael that “we” had found the one promised in the Old Testament. Was the “we” Philip spoke of actually, other people who were following Jesus? We don’t know that either.

When Nathanael expressed skepticism about anything good coming out of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, Philip simply says, “Come and see for yourself.” When Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him already Nathanael is so impressed that he impetuously calls him the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel.” What was there about Jesus to have this kind of effect on people? The New Testament gives us a slight hint. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew concludes with the observation, “for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes,” a phrase repeated in the other gospels (Matthew 7:29, also Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32,36, John 5:27 and others). What was this authority? What was it that made it different from the scribes?

About now it’s probably important to remember that we are reading from John’s Gospel and not one of the synoptic gospels. John is considered the foundational gospel for Christian dogma. It is the foundation of the lectionary in that there is no year of John in the three-year cycle because it undergirds the lectionary and fills the gaps in every year. It is also the gospel where the questions of the historical Jesus are not addressed. The Jesus of John is already the Christ, the Messiah in new form. The consistencies are that the world view is still pre-scientific. The earth is flat with a three-tier universe and earth is the sole recipient of God’s attention. As in the synoptic gospels John’s God is inclined to intervene in earthly affairs but goes one step further when it comes to God. For John God embeds Godself in the body of his Son whom John identifies as a Jewish man from the Galilee region of Palestine. John’s gospel gives a huge amount of stimulus to the development of the ‘Christ’ of the fourth century doctrine. We see here perhaps the question of authority being raised alongside this gift of empathetic engagement Jesus has. The answer to the mystery of why Jesus has such effect on people is of course because he is God.

Without doubt there was something about Jesus that drew people to him but was it limited to the mystery that is God? When British biblical scholar J.B. Phillips translated the Gospels, he was struck by the personality of Jesus and how he drew others to himself. He concluded that there must have been something extraordinary about his person that affected those with whom he came into contact. He described his own reaction in his 1967 book Ring of Truth, that there must have been something magnetic about Jesus’ personality to have such an immediate effect on people.

We can read the Gospels and note the profound effect Jesus has when he meets people: the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10), the woman at the Pharisee’s home (Luke 7:36-50), Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), the woman at the well (John 4), the sick man at the Bethesda pool (John 5:1-9), the thief crucified next to Jesus (Luke 23:40-43), and the centurion at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47) — to name only a few.

People meet Jesus, and they are changed. Whatever their deepest need was, Jesus meets it. Then they tell others what happened.

And that’s how it has worked ever since. One person says to another, “I follow Jesus and invite you to do so too.” Later on, as the church grows, parents bring their infant children to Jesus in baptism and then bring them up to follow him.

It’s always person-to-person and this makes the question more important for us in our age of social media, of electronic communication that enables us to met so to speak across thousands of miles and in an instant across time spans. How do we meet Jesus today might be our question?

When we follow the story throughout the New Testament we find an Ethiopian eunuch is puzzled by a passage in the Old Testament, and Philip “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Peter went to the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius and told them about Jesus, and “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (Acts 19:44). Here we seem to have the breakthrough of the Christian faith to the Gentile world. The spread of the Christian church across the world is the person-to-person story of the thousands of people who fanned out across the globe to tell the story about Jesus and what Jesus had done for them. What was it about Jesus that this happened?

It seems that people became Christians because they saw what the Christian faith had done for those whom they knew. The saying passed down from the early years of the church still seemed to ring true: “See those Christians, how they love one another.” We have also the story of one person who came to faith by reading about a Christian, in this case C.S. Lewis’ account of his own conversion, Surprised by Joy. But it could be said that, that too was person-to-person, merely through the medium of the printed page.

We could also say that the Old Testament lesson carries the same message — but with a twist. The boy Samuel was “ministering to the Lord” under the priest Eli, probably the equivalent of our youth training to be leaders. God called him, “Samuel, Samuel,” and the boy naturally assumed it was Eli. When it happened again, Eli realized it was God calling and instructed the boy to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” When Samuel heard God’s call the third time he responded as Eli had instructed, and God told him what message to deliver to Eli. The pattern in the story is still person-to-person, this time God to Samuel, with Eli as the middleman so to speak, with Samuel then delivering God’s message back to Eli (1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20).

One of the learnings in all this is that our task as followers of Jesus is not to “prove” the truth of the Christian faith, although many scholars have written persuasively of the truth of Christianity and we have lived through a time influenced by the idea that reason is truth. Our task is not even to persuade others to think like we do. Our task is to say, “Come and see.” Come and join the journey of discovery. Come and walk the Way and see what happens. Philip could have given Nathanael some of his own opinions. He could have said, “This Jesus knows a lot about the Bible.” Or he might have said, “There is something about this man Jesus that draws me to him.” Even when Nathanael expressed skepticism about “anything good coming out of Nazareth,” Philip might have listed some successful people from Nazareth.

But no: Philip simply said, “Come and see,” as if to say, “You don’t need me to advertise for Jesus; come and see for yourself.” Nathaniel came and saw for himself. That now becomes our task, to suggest that people, “Come and see.” Come and see what Jesus is doing for you!

What we have here our text for the day is the unmistakable invitation to participate, not as a blind follower but as a discerning student of the signs of Jesus authority. Our text is the first of seven signs identified by scholars and the first of ten that Lorraine Parkinson argues for in her book “Made of Earth.” The first is that Jesus knows Nathanael, the second Jesus turning water into wine, the third the cleansing of the temple. The fourth is Jesus knowing about the woman at the well. The fifth; Jesus curing the dying boy. Sixth: the healing of the sick man, seventh; the feeding of the five thousand, eighth; Jesus walking on the sea, ninth; Jesus giving sight to the blind man, and tenth; the raising of Lazarus from the dead. We note here that the tenth is not in the other Gospels and it is John’s ultimate indication of Jesus’ divine credentials. For John, Lazarus might represent Jews who did not believe in Jesus as Messiah and as a result have been destroyed in the Jewish War. Thus, the sign is speaking to Jews who have not yet believed that Jesus is the Messiah let alone the Son of God.

The nature of this authority that Jesus has or in our words the connection he makes is the intention of these signs. It is always person to person that his authority, his ability to influence, his transforming presence takes place. Sort of rings true does it not when as we get older we realize more and more that what really matters is the relationships we have and maintain. And being the age that we are the challenge is how to understand the authority and the nature of a relationship one has in the age of social media. What con it deliver? What do we need to be aware of in its nature in order to give it the person to person value it needs to be authentic, honest and an invitation to walk together the Way of Jesus? How do we ‘Come and see for ourselves’? “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Amen.

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