Leaving the shadows – Epiphany3

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Nazareth wasn’t a good place to put on your Curriculum Vitae as your place of origin. In fact if there was Facebook back then, you wouldn’t acknowledge that you were from there on any social media. Nazareth was a dump.
It didn’t feature in any Old Testament prophecies. No great personage had come from there. It wasn’t the seat of any power and no great families hailed from Nazareth. It was a simple backwater town. No great schools, colleges, universities.

There was nothing. Nazareth was nowhere.

Jesus came from Nazareth.

Despite the setbacks of being from there, the Nazarene Jesus had insight and intuition that the best family, geography and education cannot give. He knew people, their nature, their motivation and their desires. That is what drew him to Nathanael as he saw him standing under the fig tree.
Standing under your own fig tree is a symbol of comfort and blessing in the language of the Old Testament. Again and again the prophets used the image to evoke feelings of longing for peace and consolation. To be under your fig tree was to be home and arrived. Nathanael was standing in that space.

Strangely, there is a restlessness in the human spirit that is not satisfied with the shade of our own particular circumstance. A longing and a yearning for more. Was it this that Jesus sensed in Nathanael? Did he see in the shaded man, something restless wanting to grow?

Nathanael wasn’t impressed with Jesus. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Prejudice and arrogance make us so unteachable.  I came across a lovely defition of a heretic the other day.  It defined a heretic as someone who is unteachable.  Nathanael was bordering on heresy.

It was Philip who cut through Nathanael’s cynicism about Nazareans, “Come and see.” The most simple and effective of evangelistic invitations.  It is the beginning of growth and liberation. “Come and see“. It seems that it is not enough to stand afar off in our comfort zones and formulate opinions from a distance. We have to “Come and see“. That is what changes our lives.

As I write this, I am facing charges of heresy that have been laid with the Presiding Bishop of my denomination. The people who have laid the charge have never met me, nor are they prepared to meet me. I phoned and asked them. They are not members of any of the congregations I serve, they have never attended a service I have conducted. They have listened to an archived sermon of mine on the Internet and now they want me silenced, “to protect the people you [I] am leading to hell” by teaching exclusively from the Gospels as I do.

All they, by contrast, want to do is stand under their fig tree, their comfort zone, and voice cynical opinions.  My invitation to them is the invitation of Philip, “Come and see“. Thus far they have refused to budge from the shadows.

Jesus finds Nathanael right where he is in his comfortable, fig tree shadow, the place of his prejudiced opinions, and then Jesus leads him on to greater adventures.

He tells Nathanael he will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending.  Jesus is referring to Jacob who experienced a dream where he saw what Jesus is describing to Nathanael. Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending as Jesus describes. On awaking from his dream Jacob named the place Bethel and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

By all accounts it would seem Nathanael never did see what Jacob saw. Instead he saw the Nazarean Jesus, whom he followed; despised, rejected, crucified and utterly destroyed.   It wasn’t much of a dream! It was a nightmare!

The next and only time we hear of Nathanael, after his meeting with Jesus under the fig tree, is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in one of those mysterious post resurrection events.

I wonder if Nathanael remembered, as he stood there in the presence of the crucified and risen one, the words he heard those three adventurous years ago, “You will see greater things than these

Nathanael sure had.

Perhaps if we will get out from under the shade of our own prejudiced opinions, we may see greater things too?


11 responses to “Leaving the shadows – Epiphany3”

  1. Don Scrooby avatar

    I’m glad to hear that you feel rather detached from the whole thing. It needs to be treated with the contempt it deserves, I too can’t help but wonder how the church will deal with it. Strength, Peter. Your work and insight is fresh, challenging and liberating. I’m with you friend. Thank you for being who you are.

  2. Mark R D Long avatar

    Hi, Peter

    Your thinking often pushes me out of a rut, and broadens my perspective, and leaves me feeling less comfortable than I was. But then, I think that is the purpose of preaching … to stretch people, and get them to see that God is only God if we allow God to be beyond the boundaries. You push the boundaries … and you pay the price.

    I suspect ultra-right conservative theology should also be classed as “heresy” …

    Strength to you!


  3. Rebecca Crise avatar
    Rebecca Crise

    Peter, I too am a faithful reader. You consistently give me food for thought as I prepare my sermons. I love your definition of a heretic! Certainly seems applicable to your accusers. I do pray your bishop backs you. You, your bishop and your accusers will be in my prayers; narrow minded fundementalists always need our prayers. Peace, Rebecca+

  4. Mark avatar

    If you are a heretic, please reserve a spot for me beside you at the stake. God is at work in you…and for you…please know that you are in my prayers.

  5. Kent avatar

    Peter, I too am a visitor to your blog, and an ordained minister with the United Church of Canada. I really enjoy your reflections and thank you for your dedication to posting your good thoughts. This charge of heresy sounds absolutely absurd. You are a very thoughtful, faithful and good servant, if I may paraphrase a little…oops…that might be heretical. Nuts to that! Peace brother!

  6. Peter avatar

    Thanks Kate, I am actually quite detached from the whole thing. Am more intrigued to see how the hierarchy of the MCSA play it. ‘Twill be a good party tale ’tis true.

  7. Kate avatar

    Peace, my brother. Sounds like a pain in the ass.
    Hopefully, it will all just be fodder for good storytelling over drinks in the near future.

  8. Peter avatar

    Bless you Pat. Thanks.

  9. globaltossup avatar

    I join the previous commenter in saying that your reflections have become an important part of my faith reflections each week as well. I’m sorry you’re going through this (even if it places you in good and faithful company over the ages). If you need any of us – your readers – to be a part of your cloud of witnesses, just say the word! Blessings, Pat

  10. Peter avatar

    Thanks Charis,
    The stake burnings have hoefully gone away, but if you hear talk of a woodpile and firelighters outside the rectory, you may want to bring a six-pack and some snacks?
    The Listening Hermit

  11. Charis Varnadore avatar
    Charis Varnadore

    You , thankfully, have become a crucial part of my Monday morning ritual. And although I am sure that we would not be in agreement on certain things, I am quite certain that you are far from any heresy. I am also certain that you are aware that being accused of such puts you in great company. Thankfully, such accusations are not met with flames; and although the stake and fire are gone, small minds will persist forever… Peace and good luck… Charis

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