Today’s gospel passage describes a situation where unlikely power is found in little known places, wielded by (seemingly) insignificant people. The message encourages us to give regard to all people, and be ready to experience the ministry of Jesus in unexpected places with unlikely people.
Read the Gospel of John 1:43-51
Jesus is verbally identified in this passage by His disciples as:
· Jesus the one about whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote (The awaited Messiah)
· Jesus of Nazareth. (From unlikely origins, with no special stautus)
· Jesus the son of Joseph (Fully Human)
· Jesus the Rabbi (Fully Wise)
· Jesus the Son of God (Fully Divine)
· Jesus King of Israel (Fully Powerful)
Jesus is implicitly identified by the Gospel writer John with the power to:
· Find his disciples. (Jesus found Philip in verse 43)
· See his disciples. (Jesus saw Nathanael in verse 47)
· Know his disciples. (Jesus knew Nathanael in verse 47/48)
· Prophecy regarding his disciples (Jesus predicted for Nathanael in verse 51)
The identity of Christ is packed into these verses. In truth the whole first chapter of John’s Gospel affirms Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, fully human, fully divine, present in the beginning, with knowledge of both heaven and earth. This is John’s introduction to the Good News of Jesus. There is no doubt Jesus is worth worshipping and following to the end of the race, as St. Paul would describe the faith journey to Timothy and the Corinthians. However, not everyone will recognise Jesus, and division amongst the Jews (John 7:41–52) will result when Jesus does not fit the pre-conceived perception of the Messiah. Nathanael’s memorable comment foreshadows this rejection of Jesus. _Can anything good come out of Nazareth?_ The query is born out of a lifetime of being told what, where, and how the Messiah will look and act. Jesus does not ‘fit the bill’ of what the Jews were expecting as Saviour of the world. The world did not recognise Jesus, John has just lamented in verse 1:11, and he writes the Good News to reveal Jesus’s divine identity so that the world is invited to ‘Come, and see’. For John, to ‘see Jesus’ is to ‘receive Jesus’ as he describes in this passage of calling Philip and Nathanael, and confirms in John 14:17.
Just as there are pre-conceived ideas of Jesus, so there are pre-conceived ideas about Jesus-followers which becomes a barrier to ‘seeing’. In verse 41 Jesus _decides_ to go to Bethsaida. Why intentionally go to a predominantly Greek town along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee? _Can anything good come out of Bethsaida? to change the memorable quote. Bethsaida would become one of three towns condemned for rejecting the Christ and His ministry (Matt. 11:21; Luke 10:13). A place condemned for not recognising Jesus. Yet, out of this unlikely place, Jesus found and called Philip. Philip, in turn, found Nathanael in order to share the wonderful discovery of Jesus as the Christ. All this finding had a compound effect and Bethsaida, under the governance of Herod Philip, yielded four of the Apostles of Jesus, according to John’s Gospel. These (seemingly) inconsequential people would subsequently change the socio-religious-political mindset of the first century world.
In this passage Philip proclaims Jesus as the awaited Messiah as prophesied by Moses and the prophets. He invites his questioning friend to ‘come and see’ and discover through personal revelation the transformational truth that Jesus is Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel. Nathanael’s name means “God has given”, and in his character we have narrative references both forward toward Thomas, (who questions the resurrection and then quickly responds affirmatively); and back to Jacob’s dream (of the heavens opening with ascending and descending angels (Genesis 28:10–19)). Jesus’ assuring words to Nathanael is the prediction that ‘you’ (third person plural both times in verse 51) will encounter the very presence of God. Disciples of all generations will encounter the very presence of God through Jesus, the Messiah.
Jesus finds his disciples, intentionally deciding to journey towards us.
Jesus sees his disciples, despite our best efforts to hide behind a personally crafted mask.
Jesus knows his disciples, fully and perfectly.
Jesus will not leave his disciples where we are, but promises to be fully present in (all of) our lives.
The challenge is that human understanding is applied to divine incarnation. When we succumb to this temptation we create a barrier to recognising Jesus, Jesus’ ministry, and fellow disciples of Jesus. When we fixate on pre-conceived, stereotypical ideas of how we will encounter God, we are likely to miss the encounter altogether.
The invitation through this passage is to open our minds to receive Jesus in unexpected ways.
To proclaim the fully human / fully divine nature of Jesus.
To live in the power that Jesus finds, sees, and knows us individually and collectively.
And if words fail us in our testimony of the Christology of Jesus,
we are encouraged to follow Philip’s example of inviting friends to ‘come and witness’ for themselves the King of Israel, Son of God.
An inclusive approach to faith will open doors which were previously closed,
and encountering the Christ will reveal the kingdom of heaven, on earth, now and for all eternity.
Please join me in a prayer to be empowered to
witness the world through the eyes of Jesus;
find value in all people,
give witness to the healing ministry of Jesus,
proclaim incarnation as God’s love for creation.
Pray we will be emboldened to invite our friends to come and see, the Good that comes from unexpected places.