2 EPIPHANY - B - 18 JOHN 1:43-51
A lot has happened in a short period of time, liturgically speaking since we last met. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated Jesus’ birth, and then came the visit of the Magi to the Christ child in the manger. Last week we heard St. John describe Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River where the voice of God was heard from heaven proclaiming Jesus as His Beloved Son.
Today Jesus is calling his first disciples from among those who belong to the Baptist. In each of the last few weeks, the gospel has been an eye-opener, or as we say in Churchy terms, a manifestation or revealing of whom Jesus really is. That is what the Epiphany season is all about. Today’s gospel is no different.
Christ looks into the heart of Nathanael, sees the depth of his soon to be disciple’s faith and integrity, and commends him for it. Nathanael is completely overwhelmed by Jesus’ knowledge of him and responds to Jesus’ divine intuition by declaring Jesus the Son of God.
Sometimes we merely stumble upon a great discovery, at other times the discovery is made after an invitation has been given and we dare to respond to it. In today’s gospel, for example, Phillip rushes out, finds his friend Nathanael, and announces to him that the Christ has been found.
When Phillip tells him, who and where Jesus is from, Nathanael balks unwilling to believe that something as wonderful as Messiah’s coming could possibly be from Nazareth. Then Phillip extends the invitation “Come and See.” Nathanael is inquisitive enough to follow Phillip and that is when Jesus sees them coming and makes his pronouncement concerning Nathanael.
What little it took for Nathanael to believe. For others, including most of us, it takes a lifetime of God revealing himself, and making his presence known before we can find it in ourselves to dare to respond by taking the leap of faith. Nathanael is the exception.
Today we might say that Phillip witnessed to Nathanael. Some Christians think that this kind of witnessing is all that there is to it. You simply go and tell people about Christ, and then hope that they will believe it. However, there is much more involved in coming to belief.
What does it take to come to belief?
Looking at Church history, we see that the early converts to Christianity did not, for the most part, understand and believe the gospel and then decide to become part of the church. They did in fact the reverse. They were first attracted to the Christian community.
Then and only then, by committing themselves to live the lifestyle of that community, as outlined by St. Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth, and elsewhere, did they grow to believe. Notice I said grow. From the font of life, we are called to grow in our love and knowledge of the Lord and that growth is meant for this lifetime and beyond.
This is why, when Nathanael scoffs at Phillip’s witness by saying, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” Phillip does not turn away dejected, rather he invites Nathanael to come and see. It is important for us to understand that Phillip’s word to Nathanael is more than a mere invitation to come and take a look. St. John’s vocabulary here means, “Come and live,” “come and experience,” “come and be a part of” the community Jesus came to build.
God reveals himself and his plan for us a little at a time. Otherwise, we would be totally overwhelmed and unable to receive it. The discovery is made within the community in our sharing our experiences of God with one another.
Thus, the invitation is the same for us and for those to whom we extend it in His name. “Come and be a part of the community Jesus came to build,” “Come and live into the new life Jesus is calling all of us to.
Of the four gospels, St. John’s is unique. Unlike St. Mark, for example who let’s us know up front what and to whom he is writing about, St. John holds his explanation to the end. Throughout his gospel, he presents a series of “signs” that for John points to the true identity of Jesus.
It is his way of making the case that Jesus is indeed the Word made flesh, which has come into our world. Near the end of his gospel, St. John explains “…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
John wrote his gospel so that people would be able to believe, but he knows that people do not come to belief in Christ in the same way as they come to believe in other truths, like the cause of the Revolutionary War, or how electricity works for example.
People come to faith in Christ only by being drawn into the story and into the community of Jesus. Like young Samuel in the Temple, we do not instantly recognize the claim of God upon our lives. It takes time, and it demands the testing of our shared experiences with others.
Only when we have experienced the story of Jesus by listening to it lovingly told by the church, gradually learning to make it our own story, and slowly being able to see our selves and the world in its light, can we truly say, “I believe.” Someone has said that full and authentic believing comes at the end of the journey, and not at the beginning.
I would say that this is true for the most part, but to this, I would also add that God in his loving kindness grants us little epiphanies along the way, visions, if you will, of the coming age. He does this to remind us that He is present, that we do not make the journey alone, and that His promises are true.
How do people come to believe? John says, by “coming and seeing.” By responding to the open invitation, which every true Christian community gives to all who will hear, an invitation to come and join us for worship and service.
The invitation does not demand that people believe at the beginning of the journey. It rather beckons them to join us by being willing to reach out and serve others in Christ’s name. For it is in serving others, St. John knows, that we will encounter the living Christ and “find life in his name.” AMEN+