Second Sunday after the Epiphany

by Bear Wade

Mind-Blowing Discipleship
John 1:43-51
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Analysis by Lori A. Cornell

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 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.”


Step 1– Initial Diagnosis: Biased
It’s interesting how prejudices work: Before Nathanael ever deals with Philip’s claim that Jesus is the Messiah, he is distracted by Jesus’ origins: Nazareth. Nathanael’s logic tells him — or maybe we should say his biases tell him — that “nothing good can come out of Nazareth,” therefore the Messiah can’t be from there, and consequently Jesus must not be the Messiah. Nathanael is close-minded — only willing to see the world as he has known it so far. And what he knows is that nothing good comes from Nazareth.

Step 2 — Advanced Diagnosis: Unbelieving
Nathanael is not the only one who suffers from close-mindedness. We all have biases that keep us from seeing how God might be at work in the places we least expect to find God. Take suffering, for example: When a loved one suffers we rarely ask, How is God involved for good here? More likely we ask, Where is God when we need God the most? As much as Nathanael couldn’t believe that Nazareth could produce anything good, so our unbelieving minds have a hard time grasping that God could possibly accomplish anything good through suffering or death. No. When it comes to adverse circumstances in life, we’re not just close-minded about God working good, we don’t believe it’s possible. “Can anything good come out of death?” we ask; and our own cynical tone answers the question for us. We are unbelieving.

Step 3 — Final Diagnosis: Faithless (Us)
God knows we’re close-minded, too — not just close-minded, but faithless. God knows that we’d rather stick with our prejudices than learn something new about the way God’s at work in the world. God knows that when it comes to impossible circumstances, we’re like Nathanael — we assume nothing good can come from there. And, one might think that God’s response to such faithlessness would be predictable: Anger, wrath, damnation. For faithlessness surely deserves such rejection.


Step 4 — Initial Prognosis: Faithful (Jesus)
But notice that Nathanael is not left to wallow in his prejudices. Instead, Philip tells Nathanael to step outside his own closed mind, to see this Messiah Jesus face to face: “Come and see,” Philip says (v. 46), and Nathanael does. And when Nathanael meets Jesus, he encounters a Nazarene who knows him in a way that blows his mind wide open. Not only can Jesus perceive that Nathanael is a trustworthy man, not only can he tell Nathanael precisely where he’s been, but Jesus promises Nathanael more than mind-reading; Jesus promises him that he will see God’s authority and power rest on Jesus’ shoulders: “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (v. 51). To Nathanael — who couldn’t believe that this Nazarene could possibly be the Messiah — Jesus promises to reveal the full extent of his power.

Step 5 — Advanced Prognosis: Believing
“Come and see,” Philip (or some other follower of Jesus) tells us. And, skeptically, we come into the presence of Jesus — Jesus who knows what kind of character we possess and where we’ve been. We come into the presence of this Nazarene who is Messiah — encountering him in the Word and Sacraments; and, like Nathanael, we find our minds blown wide open by how gracious and forgiving he is to us in the face of our doubts and disbelief. To us — who find it hard to believe that anything good can come out of death — Jesus promises salvation; to us — who would sooner resign ourselves to solitary suffering than believe that God will remain faithful — Jesus gives the present assurance of forgiveness and new life. To us — who come before Jesus faithless — Jesus remains faithful. And, in the face of such grace, we can’t help but believe.

Step 6 — Final Prognosis: Open-Minded
But coming into the presence of this Nazarene Messiah effects more than personal faith. When we keep company with Jesus, he opens our minds to our neighbors and the world as well. Faith in Jesus makes it possible for us to think beyond our once-closed minds. No longer do we live with the old assumptions about what we can expect from God or the world. Instead, keeping company with this Nazarene opens our lives to all kinds of new possibilities about where faith will lead us, and with whom we will keep company. Faith in Jesus as the Messiah means that good things can come from all kinds of unexpected places; and, it means that just when we think we’ve seen the best, we will see “greater things that these” where Jesus is involved.


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