2nd Sunday of Epiphany
Gospel John 1:43-end
Jesus calls Philip, who calls Nathanael. They recognise Jesus as the long-awaited.
“Come and see.”
In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web and computer networks started to be used by the general public, rather than just by scientists. Today about eighty to ninety per cent of the adult population in the developed world uses the internet, and it is just about as easy to communicate with a friend on the other side of the world as it is with your next-door neighbour – especially with the rise of social networking sites like Facebook. These days, if you find someone who has something interesting to say, you can tell hundreds of like-minded people in your social network about it in the click of a button. And they in turn can pass the message on to their friends.
News about Jesus first spread via a sort of first-century social network. Just before today’s Gospel we are told how John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew and another of his disciples, saying, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Those two disciples then followed Jesus and spent the day listening to his teaching. Andrew was impressed, so he went to tell his brother, Simon Peter, that they had found the Messiah.
But to begin with, Nathanael is unconvinced. He is surprised when Philip tells him that the one “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote” is Jesus, son of Joseph from the rather insignificant village of Nazareth, just a few miles from Nathanael’s home town of Cana (John 21:2) – a village he undoubtedly knew well. What’s more, Nazareth is in Galilee – a rural backwater where the people lack culture and spend rather too much time with the Gentiles. Nazareth is not the sort of place devout Jews like Philip and Nathanael would expect the Messiah to come from, so Nathanael displays his prejudices and says to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Note that Philip doesn’t attempt to argue with Nathanael, or try to persuade him that something good can come out of Nazareth. He doesn’t tell him off for being a snob, or tell him he’s wrong. He simply says, “Come and see.” And when Jesus sees Nathanael coming, he doesn’t criticise him either, but says: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Or, as Tom Wright puts it in his translation, “He’s a real Israelite. Genuine through and through.” Jesus breaks the ice by recognising Nathanael as an honest man. Nathanael wonders how he knows, and Jesus says that he saw him under the fig tree. In rabbinic literature, people study the Torah under the fig tree, so Jesus is letting Nathanael know that he is aware that he is a devout Jew and has studied the scriptures.
In this brief exchange, Nathanael has truly seen Jesus. This man may come from Nazareth, but he has extraordinary insight. Nathanael is convinced and says: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus seems surprised that Nathanael is so quick to believe – maybe he doesn’t really grasp what he is saying. But Jesus assures him that he will see greater things. He will come to understand that, like Jacob’s ladder, Jesus is the link between heaven and earth.
Are we making good use of our social networks, whether online or in person? Who do we know who, like Philip and Nathanael, might be receptive to meeting Jesus? Who can we share the news with? And if they object, as well they might, perhaps we should remember Philip’s response to Nathanael’s prejudices and resist the temptation to argue, persuade or criticise, but simply invite them to “Come and see.”