Lectionary Reflection: John 1: 43-51: The Way of It

A moment of idle speculation.  What was Nathanael doing under the fig tree?  When Jesus said he saw Nathanael under the tree, Nathanael got all worked up.  What exactly was he doing???

This ends A moment of idle speculation.  Be sure and be with us next week when we ask:  Did Jesus pick up Philip in Galilee or did he make him walk with him from Bethsaida in order to have company for the road?

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The call of the disciples is always fun and instructive since we have likewise been called to be disciples.  Here, two are called, Philip and Nathanael, and in the course of the story there are several things worth thinking about.

John makes a point of recording that Philip was from the same town as Andrew and Peter.  The implication is that they knew each other.  Philip may have heard something about Jesus.  What he thought is anyone’s guess, but like a pump he may have been primed and ready for the call.  All of that is implication: sensible and reasonable speculation that does not distract from the point.

The point: All Philip needed to hear was Jesus speaking directly to him, “Follow me.”  And he did.    

Some need to hear directly from the Lord.  For some, it is all that they need (though not a reasonable or acceptable excuse for not following).  It may not be in so many words.  It may be a word to the mind or a touch in the heart or a feeling in the gut, but it must be something that can only be understood as a call from God.  Often that is all it takes.  Of course, those called to discipleship then need years to be made into true disciples – ones able to stand on their own two feet.  Generally, people need to walk it to get it, and Jesus spent the next several years with Philip walking the walk.  But initially, Philip’s call came directly from God.  It was the simple words, “Follow me.”

Nathanael exposes the more detailed call that we only speculated about in thinking about Andrew and Peter.  Nathanael and Philip were clearly friends, and in his excitement, Philip could not help but share with Nathanael.  Nathanael’s call began when his friend said “Come and see.”  Those are powerful words. 

Note:  Philip did not talk about Heaven or Hell.  He did not quote scripture (which he possibly knew little).  He did not try in any way to convert his friend (as we often mistakenly do).  He simply said, “Come and see,” as in see for yourself.

Nathanael’s sarcastic response is so typical of the type of responses we might expect to get, especially in the U. S..  People in the U. S. grew up with churches on every street corner.  They might not have been to church since the eighth grade, but the feeling is, “I already know all about that “stuff” and I am not interested.”  Often, all that family or friends can do is say, “Come and see for yourself.  Don’t worry.  I can’t make you believe something you don’t want to believe, but just come with me and keep me company and see if you don’t find something worthwhile in the process.”  With many, that is about the limit on how far we can go.  “Come and see.”

Nathanael comes begrudgingly, we may assume.  What he discovers in not that he already knows all about God and thinks he isn’t interested.  Instead, he realizes that God knows all about him, has always known all about him, and is interested.  Such a God he will follow.  Again, Nathanael, like Philip is ultimately converted, not by family or friends, but directly by Jesus.

We can bring people to the Lord, but the Lord converts.  We may have to be persistent to get people to come and see, but make no mistake, it is God who converts whom he will, and in his own good time.

In my life, I have known a number of alcoholics.  At times, I have likened that trouble to all of us “sinners,” in a several significant ways.  Follow:

First, an alcoholic will confess to being an alcoholic even if they have not had a drink in 20 years.  Likewise, as long as we inhabit this life, sin does not go away.  Being a Christian for 20 years does not mean we have ceased to be sinners.

Second, the “cure” (if you will) is cold turkey – one simply does not take another drink.  But to be effective, one needs community, one needs fellow alcoholics to be there to help, encourage, support and keep the alcoholic from “falling off the wagon.”  Likewise, this is the second most important reason, I believe, God wants us in community.  And it is a great failing of the church in the last 50-100 years.  When faced with a problem, a temptation to sin, or whatever trouble in our daily lives, we need to be able to call and depend on our fellow Christians for encouragement, support and help in “staying on the wagon.”  Instead, these days, our fellow church members are the last ones we will call for fear of the gossip and the thought that we will be diminished in their eyes, and so we go on about our sin-filled lives until we become calloused against the whole idea of sin.  Sin increases because we are not there for each other, Monday through Saturday in the way God intends for us to be… but that may be another message.

(The first reason God wants us in community is, of course, to make disciples.  We are to take those converted by God and spend several years – just like Jesus – “making” them into disciples who can stand on their own two feet.  In my view, this is another, and the most serious failing of the church in the last 50-100 years; that we fail to do this.  But as I said, that may be another message). 

Third, and this is key to our purposes here in this passage, it is understood that we cannot force an alcoholic to stop drinking.  The alcoholic must decide for themselves.  They must be touched by that “higher power” and come to their own conclusion if there is to be any hope of change.  Likewise, sinners must come to recognize things for themselves.  We can call, like Andrew and Peter perhaps, or like Philip.  Indeed, we should call and say, “Come and see.”  But people must decide for themselves.  We cannot force them to believe something they don’t want to believe.  They must be touched by that “higher power” and come to their own conclusion.  You see, we call, but God converts.  That is the way of it.

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