“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nathaniel might as well have said that Nazareth is a decrepit village. Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up. Our lectionary, created over thirty years ago, once again speaks to the world around us.
You would think that our gospel lesson this morning was chosen to speak to disparaging comments that were made earlier this week. I cannot gloss over that fact and not look towards a gospel of hope in the midst of all of the hatred and fear that is visible in our world.
Jesus begins his ministry after baptism by inviting people to follow him. People just like you and me. People that are working to support their families and are coping with their own struggles and challenges. Jesus first calls Andrew to come and see. Andrew invites his brother, Simon Peter to come and see the Messiah that he has found. Following this, we hear from John the invitation of Jesus for Philip to follow him.
Once again, Philip follows Jesus’ example and finds Nathaniel and invites him to come and see the Son of Joseph from Nazareth. “He is the one that Moses spoke of in the law and also the prophets wrote about,” Philip tells him. It is here that we get our first dose of skepticism. You could even say that Nathaniel’s response to Philip hinges on sarcasm.
Nathaniel simply says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth, a village of maybe 400 people at the most. It is not the capital of anything and is not even a village of great importance. Can anything good come out of such a town Nathaniel quips. This sarcasm could make us laugh, if we today did not hear similar remarks being uttered today.
At one time in our lives, I am sure that we have at least thought this about another place. This does not justify our own thoughts, or an elected leader saying it, nor is it following in the way of Jesus Christ.
I grew up in Charlotte. Not a large town in itself, however, it is a little larger than Richmond. We always complained that we would get overlooked by the local newspapers and news stations out of Lansing. We in turn would look towards our neighbors in Nashville, Vermontville, or Potterville and make fun of them and wonder ourselves, what good could come out of such little towns as those. They barely have any stop lights.
We could easily do the same thing around here with Memphis. This is where a lot of trouble starts. We think that everything on our side of the fence, or our side of the tracks is the best. We are skeptical of others that we do not know and fail to listen when it is necessary. We think we always have the right answers and everyone else is most likely wrong. We can mirror that same skepticism that Nathaniel modeled for us in the gospel lesson.
Our skepticism can even stretch to God. We each have our own preconceived notions of what God is and how God even acts in the world. These notions are based upon our upbringing and the families that we were raised. These notions leave little room for the mystery.
While Nathaniel was skeptical, he was still willing to listen. By reading our lesson, we know that he accepted Philip’s invitation to come and see. To at least come and see what Philip was talking about and to meet the guy named Jesus that claimed to be the Messiah.
Despite his sarcasm and skepticism, Jesus welcomes Nathaniel. Jesus speaks the truth to Nathaniel, just as Nathaniel speaks the truth in his own life. He is open to sharing of himself and his opinion. Jesus welcomes this openness and honesty, in the midst of skepticism. Jesus reveals that he had seen Nathaniel sitting under the fig tree and it is in this revelation that Nathaniel recognizes God.
One thing that is probably true about Nathaniel, was that he was well learned. Jesus’ reference to him sitting under the fig tree was a reference to someone at that time that had the time to study and become a scholar. Perhaps it was in his knowledge that made him a skeptic. It was in Jesus’ proclamation that his skepticism was washed away. Nathaniel was hungry to learn and now God had been revealed to him in Jesus, his own Epiphany.
Nathaniel now understands that his remarks about Nazareth were wrong. Yes, something good can come out of Nazareth. There is no where that God excludes from the Word. And in this promise, God is revealed throughout the world.
Many of us could point to the times that God has been revealed to us. Whether it be in other people, in nature, or in prayer. We too have been invited to come and see at least once in our lives. In that invitation, many of us have seen what the disciples and Jesus himself are talking about. For others, you may still be waiting and in your patience, Jesus is working around and within you.
Despite any criticism and skepticism that we may have, Jesus welcomes us into the fold, just as he has Nathaniel. The invitation to come and see is one that is open ended. Jesus does not tell us that we have to do this or do that. There are no mandates that we must follow. Just a simple invitation. An invitation to come and see.
Come and see God revealed in the ordinary.
Come and see love that is spread out for all, without exclusion.
Come and see a community that is built up to support and care for one another.
Come and see the saving grace and love that is poured out for all through Jesus’ death and the hope found in the resurrection.
We still have a lot to learn from Jesus Christ. The invitation that he places in front of us is not one that excludes. The invitation goes out to everyone, everywhere. To those living in Asia, Africa, South America, Haiti, or even right next door. If we could only be so bold to be as welcoming as Jesus. To show a love that knows no ends.
Who are you going to invite to come and see?
Let us pray, Jesus, we come to you this morning and pray for the revelation of your loved poured out for us in the invitation to come and see. A love that is for all people in all times and all places. A love that reveals a grace that forgives. Guide us in this time to open our hearts and minds to the possibility of inviting others to come and see. Amen.