Have you ever seen a movie or read a book that was so good you wanted to tell everyone about it? And then the person you tell responds with, “Oh yeah I saw that movie, I thought it was boring!” Oh, how disheartening it can be when something that inspired you seems dull to another person. Mike and I discovered pretty quickly that we have very different tastes when it comes to books. While he prefers philosophical sci-fi, a genre I find to be a great slog to get through, I prefer Giller prize winners or classic Canadian literature which he finds to be rather slow in story- sometimes our two tastes combine like in the great works of Margaret Atwood. It is one of the wonderful things about being human- that we all have different tastes and one person’s passion can be another persons indifference. But what happens when one’s prejudices also get in the way?
We kind of get a glimpse of that in this story of Philip and Nathanael. Just before our passage Jesus has called his first disciples from among John’s followers. Our story takes place the next day and instead of going back to the Jordan river Jesus heads into the region of Galilee. I will talk a bit more about this region in a moment but as Jesus is walking around he runs into Philip and I kind of love the exchange that takes place. Philip happens to be from the same hometown as Andrew and Peter- so their might be a connection there- but really all Jesus says is “Follow Me” and Philip doesn’t even seem to say a word but just follows Jesus. Philip then goes looking for his buddy Nathanael and tells Nathanael that the One Moses wrote of in the Law and the One preached about by the prophets has been found. So clearly Philip is really inspired by Jesus and wants to tell his friends about him. But Nathanael’s response is less than favourable, “You have got to be kidding me, has anything good ever come out of Nazareth?” I can just imagine how deflated Philip must of have felt.
Galilee is actually a large geographic area. In fact, the word comes from the Hebrew word galil which means region. Three well known towns or cities of the Galilean region were Tiberias, Capernaum and Nazareth. Tiberias and Capernaum are on the shores of the sea of Galilee and we know that Jesus basically “sets up camp” in Capernaum for much of his ministry. Tiberias and Capernaum were rich in resources and even today Tiberias is a kind of resort city. Nazareth however, is smack in the middle of the Gaillean region. It is surrounded by hills and dry land- at the time, it was basically a backwater village that served more as a rest stop between the Mediterranean sea and the sea of Galilee then any kind of village worth noting. Certainly nothing exciting came out of Nazareth. So we can kind of forgive Nathanael for his remark, except that behind this comment is perhaps a more concerning prejudice- and one that not only will Nathanael make but many who hear about Jesus will make. This is a judgment call without knowing the person- purely based on where they are from. I come from Hamilton- and I am proud of that fact- but I can relate, because most people only know about the steel mills or failed NHL team bids, they don’t know that Hamilton has the most waterfalls within the city limits of any city in the world. And a lot of good people have come from Hamilton. But it does make me wonder where our blind spots are. Do we have prejudices like Nathanael did, particularly when it comes to where someone is from. I was good friends with the Imam in Victoria, he knew what it was like to face prejudice despite the fact that he was from Ghana where most of his neighbours had been Presbyterians. Do we see stereotypes when we meet someone new? I know for myself that even if I’m not saying it out loud there are times when I catch myself thinking prejudice. Imagine if Nathanael had left it at that and had not gone to see Jesus with Philip- imagine what he would have missed out on just because he had some preconceived notions about who Jesus was because of where he came from. Imagine all the good things we miss out on because we have preconceived ideas about someone who is a refugee from Syria or a second generation Korean or an international student from Nigeria.
Thankfully, Philip does not give up and with three easy words, “Come and see” he convinces Nathanael to at least give this guy a chance. Come and see, come and see for yourself who this Jesus guy is- don’t let the reputation of his hometown influence you. Don’t let the rumours influence you. Don’t let any pre-conceived notions influence you, just come and see. To his credit, Nathanael does see who Jesus is and Jesus sees Nathanael. As Nathanael approaches Jesus says, “Here is a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” It would actually appear that Jesus is the one who has created some pre-conceived notions about Nathanael. But then it is discovered that long before Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, Jesus knew the kind of person Nathanael was. And in this moment Nathanael exclaims, “You are the Song of God, the King of Israel!” Ok- if someone says to me, “oh I saw you sitting out on a bench a couple days ago and you looked pretty great” I’m not going to think there is anything prophetic about them. But maybe it is the fact that Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” that changes Nathanael’s perspective. Worship developer Phill Mellstrom points out, “ Nathanael’s question “How do you know me?” is particularly poignant in these times of separation and isolation. This experience is in stark contrast to the initial prejudiced response of Nathanael. In this brief encounter we see a movement away from assumption and pre-conceived notions of someone’s value dependant on where they are from, to Nathanael feeling the power of being ‘known’.” Jesus makes Nathanael feel as if he has worth- which is in contrast to Nathanael’s comment that nothing of worth can come from Nazareth. That is one of Jesus’ prophetic roles- that Jesus gives people worth even when he himself has been and will be treated as nothing more than a criminal.
I appreciate that Jesus kind of pulls back on Nathanael’s reigns and says, “You think I’m that amazing just because I saw you sitting under a fig tree a few days ago?! Just wait- your mind is about to be blown away because if you come with me you are going to see the heavens open!” Again Jesus’ role is to call these disciples- make them feel something they have never felt before- that they matter and then tells them they are about the experience something even more powerful than a feeling of self-worth.
Phill Mellstrom says, “[Prejudices] can impoverish our faith and reduce the opportunity for us to hear God and respond.” We can also miss out on our opportunity to feel worth. I may be a proud Hamiltonian- but I have struggled with self-esteem- finding myself on YouTube has not really helped how I feel about myself. But Jesus says, come with me, and I see you, you matter, and I’ve got big plans for you. That is the calling to discipleship that Jesus gives to each one of us. We might all have our own passions and inspirations but all you have to do is get rid of those prejudices and – come and see-and Jesus will blow your mind. Amen