Week of Sunday of 15 January - Epiphany 2
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simonto Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And 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.’
Even as a little kid, I had a sense things should be better. I was enormously fortunate in the family in which I found myself, but something in life was... missing. Life felt like... it should be something... more.
As I grew older , I began to realise something was fundamentally wrong with life. Life was meant to be good; somewhere I had reached that understanding, but life was often not good. People died.
I witnessed my uncle saying horrible things to my auntie. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew pain and anger and deep, deep hurt. I was always proud about my Dad being in the army during the war, not that he ever talked about it. One day I heard a conversation between him, and an old soldier friend he had not seen since then. Suddenly I began to understand horror and fear I had never imagined.
And so, like all of us, I began to realise that this earth, and this life, are often a very bad place to be.
But always, always, there remained this sense of wonderful potential. Life could be so much better. It was part longing; I wanted to escape the bad things I had met, but I also began to wonder if this potential, this paradise which I could imagine, was actually the way things were meant to be!
I think I was beginning to meet God.
In ancient Israel, where life was a lot harder than here, they longed for things to be right, to be better.
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, (said the prophet Isaiah),
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
So this shoot from the stump of Jesse, this descendant of King David-- (for Jesse was King David’s father)—this man was going to make things right for the people. He was going to judge with righteousness, not self-interest.
The dream was deeper than that. They dreamed that the nature of earth itself would be changed fundamentally. The basic, fundamental enmities of life would be healed. Isaiah continues:
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
It was another language, another time, another culture, but this was what I was dreaming about. They were dreaming about every man and woman sitting safe beneath their vine and fig tree, in peace and unafraid, (Micah 4:4) with life being as it should be.
The dream went further. People would meet God: In another dream in the Old Testament, Jacob saw the angels of God going up and down a ladder into heaven.
13And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’17And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
Although Jacob was afraid in the presence of God, life was good. Life was good, because God was in his life. (15)Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go...
You’ll notice I have not yet said anything about the reading for today from John’s gospel. That’s because it’s not just a story about choosing some disciples. John gospel is written in code, at two levels, which is why it sounds a bit strange to our ears. It looks like a story about choosing disciples, but it is also a coded story which goes deeper, and speaks about our choices. I’ve been giving you the key to John's code about life as God means it to be.
So... let’s turn the key, and unlock the code.
The two disciples standing with John the Baptist leave him behind and follow Jesus.
The good life does not come only from repentance. The road to finding life-as-it-should-be; life with God, begins with a repentance, a turning away from our old life. But we don’t stop with that. We have to follow Jesus. The words Jesus uses are come and see, and follow. It says the disciples stayed with him for the rest of the day; the word stay is remain, in the Greek text. The code is saying that to find life as God means it to be, we have to follow Jesus; that means to imitate Jesus, and to stay with him; to stick at it!
Then we meet Nathanael. John is saying Jesus knows what we want. He knows we want to be safe beneath our vine and fig tree; relaxing at peace, unafraid on the best of summer evenings. He knew what Nathanael was doing and longing for in life. In the Greek it says something like before Phillip called you, I knew you in the depth of your being. I knew those deep longings you have for life to be as it is meant to be. I knew you want life to be the way God means it to be.
John is telling us Jesus knows our longings and our fears. He understands.
Jesus also says that Nathanael is an Israelite in whom there is no guile. This is an in- joke.
Nathanael was an Israelite; a native of Israel; we know that. The Israelites were named after their ancestor Israel. Israel was named Israel by God, but his family had actually named him Jacob. And that’s the joke. Everyone knew Jacob was a trickster, a cheat, and a deceiver. He even cheated his brother out of his birthright.
Jacob wrestled with God. He tried to do the right thing, but couldn’t seem to help himself. All through life, even though he wanted to serve God, he was, as we Australians say, a bit of a dodgy character.
Yet God came to him. This was grace, long before the apostle Paul talked about it. Jacob saw heaven opened. “‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Jesus says to Nathanael, I know you are more than Jacob. Follow me and you will see I am the gateway into heaven. I am... the ladder.
And there’s a little trick in the original Greek text of the gospel. He’s supposed to be speaking to Nathanael, but he’s speaking to us all. He talks like a Texan; in the Greek it says, “Follow me, and you-all will see the gateway into heaven.” He is speaking to you!
Jesus is making y’all an offer. He’s saying, I know the longings of your hearts. I know how life should be more. Follow me, and I’ll bring you all to the gate of heaven. I’ll be the way in for you all. Be my disciples. Stay with me, and you all will find this Earth is none other than the house of God, and ... the gate of heaven. Amen.