Come & See

Sunday, January 14, 2024
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

John 1:43-51

 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

This is the first of at least four instances in the Book of John where upon meeting Jesus – encountering him for the first time – people have with them, immediately in tow, their skepticism, and their questions. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

I think John’s telling of these encounters are some of the most honest in the gospels because we can imagine just how unbelievable Jesus’ healings and teachings and presence must have been, not just because of what he did, but because of who he was and where he was from.

The question of where Jesus comes from – his origins – permeates the Gospel of John, rooted in these grand expectations that many people had for God’s anointed one. Of course, they imagined that Jesus would appear to them adjacent to power. That could mean near Jerusalem – the hub of political and economic and religious power, the place of earthy authority. Or, that could mean another place or event of grandeur – like a parade or political rally. If their hopes were in a leader who would topple empire, reverse systems of oppression, and deliver them from the pain they experienced, than that person must be from wealth or status or power.

And so it’s no surprise that Nathanial is a little unconvinced that “the one whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote” is from Nazareth. Nazareth was a small, rural, blue-collar town, known for carpentry and manual labor – about as far as he can imagine from the center of power. How on earth is Nathanial supposed to believe that the promised leader – the one his ancestors foretold as the Messiah – the person who would lead us out of death and destruction and division – came from there? A place with no authority? A place not known for education or public speaking or leaders; a place whose residents were not very respected. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Now Nathanial’s question is admittedly more skepticism than faithful question; it is rooted in his biases and what he thinks about people from Nazareth. We don’t know exactly the circumstances – maybe it’s town rivalries, maybe it’s stereotypes about carpenters (Joseph); maybe it’s piety or religious difference about the way people in Nazareth live out their faith – but the point is, Nathanial’s preconceived notions about people from Nazareth come blurting out.

Maybe this is why Jesus calls him honest just a few versus later. He says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” It’s true that he’s not being deceitful; he’s being quite forthcoming with what he thinks about people from this place.

And yet, as we know, he’s wrong about people from this place. The Son of God is from Nazareth and does come to us from a place far removed from the rich or powerful. The biases and the stereotypes that Nathanial holds about certain people cause him to almost miss the chance to meet and know Jesus – almost prevented him from seeing the Son of God.

Almost did, if it weren’t for Jesus faithfulness and his friend Philip ‘s response. Philip doesn’t chastise Nathanial, he doesn’t shame him, he doesn’t defend Jesus, there is no mic-drop. Philip simply responds to his questions with an invitation: “come and see” for yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot of skepticism about Jesus and faith and church, not only in each of our wider circles, but within our community here, right in our midst. And today’s passage is a reminder that Jesus can handle our honest questions. In fact, I read recently that children ask an average of 250 questions a day and adults ask an average of about 20. Jesus tells us in scripture to “become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3) and “to those who are childlike, the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matt 19:14). Our honest questions okay; welcomed, in fact. Our questions are not only okay, they’re welcomed.

And hey, I’m a Millennial. The majority of my peers – and for many of you, maybe your children and grandchildren or people that you love – have given up church, often for very good and real and honest reasons. There’s no deceit about it; they’ll tell you about the pain they’ve experienced when told they needed to be someone other than who God made them to be. Or about the hypocrisy they see in faith communities and partisan politics. Or some are ambivalent; unconvinced that there is anything missing from their lives by not being a part of a faith community.

And what might it look like for us to embody the posture of Philip and Jesus in today’s text? To respond to their skepticism or questions – not with defensiveness or shame – but with an invitation? “Come and see.”

Because rather than take it upon ourselves to convince or persuade or change others, we remember today that Jesus is the one who finds us. Jesus is the one who tells us we are right where we belong, just as Jesus found Philip and Nathanial. Jesus seeks us out and finds us, even when we’re not particularly looking for him. He shows up in the most unexpected places and unexpected people. The very people that our own worldviews and preconceptions might barricade us from seeing. Light, illuminated in the darkest corners of our biases and a God who breaks through our biases, forgives us for them, and opens our hearts, all in the same instant.

Because this passage ends with Jesus saying to Nathaniel, “you haven’t seen anything yet.” Jesus invites us to come and see. To come and hear a promise that is beyond our wildest imaginings of a world truly reconciled – not with cheap unity or false peace and platitudes – but with repentance and restitution and forgiveness and wholeness. A future better than what we’ve ever known. God’s kingdom come, to turn it upside down, for the sake of love. Come and see. Amen.

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