... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Epiphany 2 – Year B, Message Jan 15th, 2012

The Ah-Ha of Recognition and True Discipleship

Text: John 1:43-51

The readings for this Sunday at first appear somewhat disjointed and disconnected. Yet on a closer look one can observe a common element that not only links them but ties them into the understanding of Jesus’ birth and the true identity of Jesus as Messiah. That element of commonality is the confession of God as the supreme authority omnipotent omnipresent and omniscient. And the key to seeing this comes with Nathanael’s sudden realization as to who Jesus is, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!”

Amid scepticism, ignorance and disbelief there often arises an ah-ha moment: the sudden recognition; the true awakening; the point of the penny dropping; A couple of years ago Carol and I were having supper at a local restaurant in Parry Sound. At the table next to ours was a well known personality, his wife and a couple of his friends. IT seems no one recognized him – that is until one of the kitchen staff happened to come out – look over, do a double take and announced to one of the waitresses in a less-than shouting voice – that’s Stompin’ Tom Connors. Of course what had been a fairly mundane restaurant atmosphere literally erupted into a cacophony of exclamations and a rush of patrons to his table to get an autograph.

Now perhaps neither Samuel, the psalmist nor Nathanael quite fit the mode of an autograph seeker, but their stories do tell of the sudden realization of the celebrity in their midst and that celebrity is none other than God.

Samuel the son of Hannah and Elkanah had been dedicated to the Lord’s service by his parents and so had been sent to the temple at Shiloh to be instructed and educated by Eli. Then one night Samuel hears a voice and takes it to be that of the elderly Eli. Going to him in response Samuel is rebuffed and told to go back to bed. Again the voice calls again, Samuel goes to Eli and once again Samuel is sent back to bed. However the third time is the “ah-ha” moment for Eli as he realizes that the voice which Samuel hears is none other than God’s voice. He is now able to properly instruct Samuel as to the correct course of action and response. For Eli the moment must have been bitter-sweet – not only does he see in Samuel a true heir and prophet walking and talking with God, he also sees the truth concerning his own sons – disobedient and disdainful and for whom he (Eli) must bear responsibility.

The psalmist in a song of praise and wonderment has also had a moment of revelation or epiphany. While not part of the lectionary, a portion of the psalm deals with the author’s own loss of faith, own mental ordeal or own sense of wanting out. Despite the ordeals the psalmist has seen a great understanding not just of his own plight but also of the mercy of God and the desire God has of creating a relationship between the two. In this sudden realization the author breaks into a remarkable confession of God’s amazing power and even more unfathomable wonder that one so omnipotent and omniscient as God should be mindful of one so insignificant as this human. Paul in a similar venue writes to the Corinthians concerning the awesome awareness of what this new relationship means and the new call for obedience and submission to God’s will in and through Christ Jesus.

The Gospel reading from John depicts the continued call of the disciples. Having accepted Andrew and Simon Jesus now calls Philip; and Philip in true evangelical mode invites Nathanael. In this brief encounter many things happen. Jesus finds Philip and commands him to follow. Philip finds his friend Nathanael and invites him to come and see. Jesus converses with Nathanael and then there is the "ah-ha" moment and the confession of faith. It is this moment that connects the recognition of the celebrity of the Divine with the call to follow (the autograph seeking) and what is to be known as discipleship.

Nathanael is only mentioned in John’s Gospel and many have debated as to his identity. The Synoptic Gospels however always link Philip and Bartholomew. It may well be that Bartholomew and Nathanael are one and the same, for Bartholomew actually would be a surname meaning son of Tholomew. Nathanael is seen as the quintessential Jew, sceptical but open. At first invite by Philip Nathanael is not easily won over. Told that Jesus is from Nazareth a small suburb of Sepphoris comprising 200+ people, Nathanael quips, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He is unable to see the possibilities of greatness from humble surroundings. He like his friend probably was from another small Galilean community of Bethsaida and would have disdain for Nazareth as a community on the wrong side of the tracks. Yet he is open and willing to meet this Jesus.

Then the encounter! And Jesus, as John’s Gospel so often implies, is able to see into the hearts and minds of others knowing their past and their future. It is this omniscience that is the epiphany for Nathanael. However, it is this very knowing by Jesus which contains a deeper meaning for John’s audience. Nathanael is able to make his confession of faith but on a deeper level we are being asked to understand something more. That something more is connected with Jesus’ knowing Nathanael as a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit or as other translators state, no guile, which we might also translate as cunning. In calling Nathanael an Israelite and later mentioning the heavens and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man there is an obvious referral to Jacob son of Isaac, and bearer of the name Israel. By comparison Jacob was a man of guile (cunning deceitful) and often underhanded in his dealings with his relations, but still an instrument of God’s ultimate plan. Here Nathanael comes and in him Jesus intimates Israel will be refashioned. Just as Jacob became Israel, Nathanael will be the new Israel, and just as Jacob saw a ladder with angels ascending and descending so will Nathanael, and the other disciples see it but that ladder will be the Son of Man. We know that there is a wider audience during the finale of this scene because John no longer uses the singular as addressed just to Nathanael but the second person plural inviting the entire audience into this new relationship and subsequent discipleship.

Thus connecting the identity of Jesus as the Word made flesh, the Baptism of our Lord and the call of the disciples, John’s Gospel opens for all an invitation to follow – to come and see.

Discipleship means following. However, to truly follow a person had to know what or who she or he has to follow and who it is that leads. Too often today we want to be leaders, we want to be the ones at the fore and that may be all well and good in the field of human endeavours. Yet, when it comes to spiritual endeavours anyone other than Jesus who claims ultimate leadership is a false idol. Only Jesus can lead the way to the Father – disciples follow and invite (fish for) others. That is what the original disciples were called to do – that is what we are called to do as well. May God make us true fishers of others, grant us fruitful catches and may they come to meet and follow Jesus in their turn. Amen.