s114g00 Somerton Park Sunday 2 16/1/00
"Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"" John 1:46
I wonder how many times Nathanael "kicked himself" for making this comment about Jesus when he was first told about him by Philip? I wonder how many times the other disciples reminded Nathanael of this faux-pas?
There are many times in my life when I look back and realise how, quite unintentionally, I have "put my foot in it". It is not just that I can recall these times - it seems they come back to haunt me of their own volition, with all the sharpness of pain undiminished, years later. It is not that I feel that I've sinned and not had God's forgiveness - the pain is that I may have hurt someone else, and I've spent the ensuing years "kicking myself" over what others might consider a trifle. Indeed the other person may have brushed the incident aside as irrelevant, for in many instances I don't know the effect my actions or words had anyway. The pain is not lessened by not knowing, but magnified.
I suppose that it's a function of youth that we do not know how to respond to situations, though I don't think that I have learned all that much, now that I'm old and grey :-)
We can presume, I suppose, that when Jesus replied to Nathanael: "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!", Jesus is thereby not agreeing with the sentiment, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?". However it is possible that this sentiment accurately reflected a current perception of the people of Nazareth, for the first attempt on Jesus' life came from the people with whom he had grown up and with whom he had worshipped all his formative years - from Nazareth. Perhaps those from Nazareth, in those days were a particularly "bristly" mob - easily upset.
I doubt whether Jesus saw himself as a Bethlehemite, though perhaps his neighbours did. I find it interesting that the focus of Jesus' ministry, if focus there is, shifts to Capernaum. We are told "He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali". (Matt 4:13). We can assume that this was precisely because of the hostile reception in his home town.
Perhaps Nathanael's words were spoken in the same light-hearted banter that we from South Australia (particularly those who follow football) might say: "Can anything good come out of Victoria?". I suppose Victorian football fans reciprocate in kind about South Australians :-) We are told that Nathanael was from Cana (John 21.2), so perhaps there was a traditional rivalry between the two towns - they are but 15 kms apart "as the crow flies". Or, (as I say) perhaps Nathanael was a bit like me, he had got into the habit of opening his mouth often succeeding only in changing feet :-)
Clearly there is a link between the two statements: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" and "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" The words of Jesus seem to be a response to Nathaniel's statement, even if it seems Jesus was not present when the statement was made. Clearly Jesus was aware of the encounter with Philip, for he knew that it was Philip that "called" him.
But I wonder if this "super-natural" knowledge that Jesus seems to have of Nathanael, which Jesus passes off simply as good observation, combines to give us a good picture of Jesus as a person. Perchance Jesus had been told about Nathanael prior to Philip calling him, it doesn't matter much to me. What is important is that Jesus affirms the general reputation that Nathanael had earned. It is also important to know that Jesus excuses the light-hearted banter about residents of Nazareth - even when it is against him and his own background. We may take the message that Jesus excuses the times when we inadvertently say the wrong thing at the right time. Jesus also affirms the importance of being a person in whom there is no deceit.
While we all have our prejudices about the followers of the opponents' football team, we hardly for a moment think that they will be condemned to eternal damnation for following the wrong side. Our faith is about things rather more eternal.
We might have a picturesque view of the calling of the lad Samuel - the story has an element of charm; a rustic naivete associated with it. Yet message that the boy Samuel is given by God is not some innocuous precept like "love your neighbour". The message that Eli's pupil is given is directed squarely at Eli, Samuel's teacher, the priest - a saintly, and well respected man. The message was distinctly unpalatable - that because of the behaviour of his sons, "the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever." (1 Sam 3.14) This was hardly a welcome message to deliver to one's superior and mentor, and it is no wonder that Samuel demurred from speaking it.
Here we see another example of the old and established religion having to hear the word of the Lord in the mouths of youths, as I had occasion to take from the message of Elizabeth as she demurred to the story of the younger Mary in the sermon for Advent 3.
The sons of Eli, exercising the local priesthood at Shiloh, had taken to bullying the people (1 Sam 2.16). Deceit and guile were their "stock in trade" to magnify their own positions over the people. And this leads me to reflect that perhaps it was in some personal frustration that Eli confronts Hannah with what he mistakenly supposes is her drunkenness on her annual pilgrimage when she comes to the Temple to pour out her frustrations before the Lord. Eli's frustration was (very likely) over the fact that he could not control his own children who were doing patently not what God wanted, right before his very eyes, with impunity, day after day. (1 Samuel 1.14)
We need to hear that the words of God are heard from those in whom is no guile, not necessarily from those who perform the rites or mouth the "right" words. We look for the word of the Lord where the speaker will not be magnified by the word. We look for the word of the Lord where the speaker actually is not trying to bully the other.
I take great comfort from the fact that Jesus looks not at the words we say, but what is on our hearts.
And I pray that it is not just Jesus who is enabled to do that, but that we too are able to look at others and see in them "no guile". For I am sure the world would be a far happier place if we could see in others the good things written on their hearts and not judge them by their considered or ill-considered words. For, by definition, when we recognise that the words which are said by those in whom is no deceit are indeed words from God, and we see more and more people in this light, we will indeed begin to hear the words of the Lord more and more frequently.
Finally I point out that Jesus tells Nathanael "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" May we not just have eyes to see in others their purity of heart, but have the courage to say so. I certainly need to take these words to heart as much as anyone else. Jesus went around affirming people, and I suspect the incident with Nathanael, was a paradigm for how Jesus approached everyone, and how Jesus continues to approach everyone. Jesus saw the good in Nathanael and Jesus sees the good in us. This recognition and acknowledgement will bring in others the same faith which made Nathanael exclaim: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). For all we might try to bully people into faith and / or right living, the paradigm is clear how Jesus elicited faith in others. It is surely how each of us have experienced the risen Lord. We have known something of the affirmation of Jesus. Even if perchance it has been that we have been pulled up as we travelled the wrong path, we have felt that Jesus cared enough for us personally to pull us up.
May we attempt to emulate this way of affirmation, the way of Jesus. For we will be blessed like Nathanael's lack of guile was blessed, he would see "greater things ... heaven opened ..."
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