“Follow me”

Saturday

John 1

File:Jesuscristo acuarela 05072009.JPG

Dibujo de Jesucristo, en acuarela. Parque de la Exposición. Lima, Perú.

43[Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.”

Whatever else we may think about Christian faith, it comes down to this: “Follow me.” Follow Jesus. Watch him. Learn from him. See what he does. Listen to what he says. Be shaped by his example. Breathe his spirit. Become like him.

Christianity is not a set of ideas; it is a way of living. Christ is not just our redeemer; he is our teacher. Jesus did not come to help us be a success in life, but to be successful in living – living the compassion, justice, mercy, grace of God; living the life of the garden; the life of the city to come.

Christianity is not a system of redemption; it is a dynamic process of redemption, of God freeing and reclaiming our lives. It’s not a path to heaven; it’s a pathway to a heaven-shaped life.

A religious system that asks no more than a pinch of incense and an occasional ritual is easier. But it is not the life that does not perish.

 

Photo: By Dtarazona (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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As we shall be

I couldn’t break these reflections into separate days – since they interweave with each other. Read them together, read them in pieces, however it works for you.

For Thursday and Friday

John 1

File:Fig Tree.jpg

“I saw you under the fig tree” (A fig tree in Sydney, Australia)

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get 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.”

Jesus’ conversation with Nathanael is, at best, confusing to us. Like everything in John it is full of layers of meaning and the conversation is condensed like a rich sauce simmered down until the flavors are at their most intense.

‘Seeing’ in John is never just about seeing with the eyes, it is about seeing and perceiving, seeing and understanding, seeing and knowing the truth and meaning of someone or something. So Philip’s invitation to Nathanael is “Come and see.” Come ‘see’ the truth of this Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus ‘sees’ Nathanael, sees and knows him: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” And ultimately Jesus says to Nathanael that he shall “see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

And since these stories are never just about other people in the past, we are part of this narrative. We are invited to “Come and see.” We are promised to “see heaven opened.” And we are fully known.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

“Angels of God ascending and descending,” takes us to the story of Jacob who saw angels ascending and descending when he laid his head upon a rock and slept while fleeing the brother he cheated and the father he deceived. What Jacob saw in his dream/vision was that he had stumbled upon the sacred place where heaven and earth connected. It was the stairway to the heavens, the holy point of contact where God’s agents came and went to work God’s work on earth.

Nathanael is promised that he will ‘see’ that Jesus is this true point where heaven touches earth, where grace comes to us and we see into the heart of God. Too often we look for a literal fulfillment of the words of Jesus and there is no story in John of angels ascending and descending upon Jesus. But John is never about the literal. We will see heaven touch earth with grace at Cana, with the blind man, with the bread in the wilderness. We will see heaven touch earth when Jesus bends to wash his followers feet. We will see heaven touch earth when Jesus is lifted up on the tree of the cross. If we have eyes to see we will see. If we are without deceit.

*     *     *     *    *     *     *

Jesus sees in Nathanael “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Again this takes us to the story of Jacob who was the deceiver, cheating his brother of his birthright and deceiving his father to steal the blessing. There is in the scripture a narrative stream about faithless Israel, a people continually turning away from God and putting their faith, hope and trust in other gods and kings. A stubborn and rebellious people. A deceitful people.

Nathanael is a true Israelite. A faithful Israelite. What the people of Israel were called to be and so often failed to be. What we are called to be and so often fail to be – but what we can be in Christ.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

It is by deceit that the chief priests and Pharisees will conspire to put Jesus to death. They have staked their destiny to the temple built by Herod and the priesthood appointed by Rome. This Jesus is a threat to the established social order, and the leadership plots his destruction in secret.

The beginning of John’s Gospel exposes that the world loved darkness, and when the word made flesh came to his own they did not receive him.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

*     *     *   *     *     *     *

When Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering servant, a text in which Christians see written the work of God in Christ, the prophet declares: “there was no deceit in his mouth.”

9They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

His ‘kingdom’ is not like the kingdoms of this world. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Psalm 32 tells us that the honorable are those in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

In the beatitudes Jesus declares the pure in heart will see God. They share in the spirit of the Christ. They do not scheme and dissemble to protect their privilege.

The honorable, the pure in heart, those in whom there is no deceit, the Nathanael’s of this world will see that Jesus is true. He is the living bread, the water of life, the way and the truth.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Jesus: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
Nathanael: “Where did you get to know me?”
Jesus: “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Nathanael: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

As we said, this conversation has been distilled to its very essence. Otherwise it seems very strange.

Jesus has revealed the pure heart of Nathanael. Now Nathanael wants to know the basis of Jesus’ statement. Only he doesn’t ask “How do you know me?” – a question that sounds to us like “where did we meet?” because, for us, knowledge of a person comes from meeting and interacting with them.

But in the world of Jesus and Nathanael, knowledge of a person’s character comes by knowing their family and village. So that’s why this strange word ‘where’. Nathanael is asking “From where do you know me to be?” From what village, from what family, do you know me to be?

Nathanael isn’t disputing Jesus’ knowledge of him. He is inquiring about it.

And Jesus doesn’t really answer Nathanael’s question. Rather, Jesus makes a statement: “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

On a literal, earth-bound level, it sounds like Jesus saw Nathanael at his home. But, as we have said, nothing is literal and earth-bound in John’s gospel. Seeing is ‘seeing’. Jesus knows Nathanael under the fig tree – which can’t be a literal fig tree. If it were a literal fig tree, Nathanael would be confused like Nicodemus failing to understand what it means to be bore from above. But Nathanael is not confused. He acclaims Jesus with royal and messianic titles.

“Under the fig tree” carries us to the prophet Micah 4:

4In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, 2and many nations shall come and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
4but they shall all sit under their own vines
and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

5For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

“Under the fig tree” means dwelling in the fullness of salvation. Dwelling in the peace of the age to come.

Jesus has seen Nathanael dwelling in the realm of the world made new. That is how we get to the acclamation that Jesus is “the Son of God!” and “King of Israel!”

And since the story isn’t only about Nathanael, since the story is also about us, Jesus does more than know us intimately. He sees us redeemed. He sees us freed of every darkness. He sees us made whole. He sees us dwelling beneath our fig tree in the perfect peace of God. He sees not only what we are; he sees what we shall be in him. Whole. Complete. Healed. Pure in heart. Compassionate. Forgiving. True.  Free.

And it is this that makes us confess through our tears: you are God’s anointed, our true and holy king.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

There is more in this text. But this is its heart. We are invited to “Come and see.” We are promised to “see heaven opened.” And we are fully known – known as we are, known as we shall be.

 

Photo: By Mike Bogle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Let me try again

A second attempt at: ‘He’ who?  Me?

I received feedback that people had trouble following my last posting, I hope this revision is clearer.

For Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

Our translator puts Jesus’ name at the beginning of this sentence. It’s not unreasonable, given the Greek, but the name ‘Jesus’ is actually connected to the word ‘said’ at the end of the sentence. Literally it says: “He decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip, and Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. Does John intend us to understand that Peter (the subject of the preceding line) went to Galilee and found Philip, or does our author mean that Jesus himself went to Galilee and found Philip?

In the preceding verses, John the Baptist points to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus and ask, “Where are you staying?”

This question has a literal meaning about where Jesus is spending the night. But, like so much in John’s Gospel, it has a deeper, more profound dimension. The word these disciples use is ‘abide’. They want to know where Jesus abides. And the answer to this, as we will come to learn in this Gospel, is that Jesus abides in the Father. Jesus answers them saying, “Come and see,” inviting them to come with him and see that he abides in the Father and the Father abides in him.

That this encounter with Jesus is much more than a simple question about residency is clear in what happens next: Andrew goes to get his brother, Simon (Peter), saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew’s encounter with Jesus – the invitation to see –results in the confession that he is the Messiah, the Christ.

Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, and Jesus gives him the name Cephas. Peter’s encounter with Jesus – like that of the two before him – seems strangely simple on the face of it. But Jesus has not just given Peter a nickname; giving a name means calling someone into a new reality, a new destiny.

Our verse immediately follows this giving of a name. Unfortunately, my Bible adds a paragraph break and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John, our gospel writer, didn’t give us section headers (or paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas,” the gospel continues saying ‘he’ decided to go to Galilee and gets Philip. Thus our question: who is this ‘he’?

If the ‘he’ that begins this verse is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

The problem is that we are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, and adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, then as now the followers of Jesus are participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and bring their friends to see. This combining of past and present is also seen in John when the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? What seems like Jesus speaking switches to the plural pronoun in 3:11 when he says “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” Similarly, is it Jesus who says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? The truth is, it is both. John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. Jesus is empowered by God to speak with God’s authority and power. In John, Jesus is more like us, a witness pointing towards the wonder and mystery of God. Jesus gives us signs –signs that are meant to help us see that he is the new wine and the bread of life and the living water.

The Jesus in John’s gospel teaches rather than commands. He doesn’t speak the Word; he is the Word made flesh, the word that makes free.

And we are witnesses, bringing people to this living Word.

John’s Gospel is about Jesus and also about us. It is about then, and also about now.  We are a community in Christ and Christ in us, bearing witness to the light and life of the world. Like Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, we are gathering others to Christ that, together, we might share in the Life that does not perish.

‘He’ who? Me?

Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. The subject ‘Jesus’ doesn’t show up until the final verb “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

The subject is undetermined at the beginning: “He decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

Was it Jesus who went to Galilee and found Philip? Or was it Simon Peter to whom Jesus has just spoken?

When you look back we find John the Baptist pointing to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”   Two of John’s disciples then follow Jesus and ask where he ‘abides’ – meaning not just “staying”(so NRSV) but all that we will learn about Jesus abiding in the Father and us abiding in Jesus. Jesus answers them, “Come and see” – again, suggesting not just that they will see where he has pitched his tent, but ‘see’ that he abides in the Father. Andrew then goes to get his brother, Simon, saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew brings Peter, and Jesus names him Cephas.

My Bible has a paragraph break here and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John gave us no section headers (no paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas”, ‘he’ goes to Galilee to get Philip.

If the ‘he’ is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

We, however, are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus, who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, but adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, the followers of Jesus are already participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and then bring their friends to see. And the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? The plural pronoun ‘we’ is used in 3:11. Does Jesus say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? Or both? John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. This is not absent from John, but John wants us to recognize that we are part of the story. We are a community in Christ, bearing witness to him who is the light and life of the world. And we are gathering others into Christ, that together we might share in the Life that does not perish.

Photo: By Concierge.2C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Call and response

Watching for the morning of January 18

Year B

The Second Sunday after Epiphany

File:Cristo e gli apostoli.jpg

Cristo e gli apostoli, Sergio bramante

The arc of the church year has turned now from the origins of Jesus to his public ministry. What begins with our eyes on the far horizon, the coming of Christ and the consummation of God’s reign over a world made whole, and then turns to the promise of Christ and a birth acclaimed by ancient prophecy and the heavens, now turns from God’s acclamation last Sunday that this Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son, anointed with the Spirit, to the words and deeds of this holy one of God in whom the new creation dawns.

We will get to the familiar story of the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John, who leave their nets to follow Jesus when we return to Mark’s Gospel next Sunday, but first we glance across to John’s Gospel and the call of Philip and Nathanael “in whom is no guile.” (Such glances will happen several times in this year when our Gospel readings are normally from Mark.)

The first reading takes us to the call of Samuel, serving as a boy in the shrine at Shiloh. Three times he is called by God, and each time he runs to his master, Eli, until Eli finally realizes that God is summoning Samuel. Eli instructs Samuel how to answer when God calls, saying: “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

Sunday’s psalm speaks of God knowing us intimately – as Jesus knew Nathanael when he was “under the fig tree” – and so weaves us back towards the theme of the call of God.

The reading from 1 Corinthians isn’t chosen to match the others; this Sunday we return to the practice in Ordinary Time to read more or less consecutively from one of the New Testament letters. We pick up in the middle of Paul’s letter to his troubled congregation in Corinth where he challenges the slogans of those who think freedom from the law means that all things are permitted. Yet this, too, involves the question of what it means that we have been called by God.

The lively pattern in African-American churches of call and response is more than a remnant of African culture. It is a right understanding of the fundamental character of the interplay of God and humanity. Musically, call and response summons the heart and soul and body. It engages the whole life of the hearer. It calls us into the song.

So, too, in worship, in scripture and in life, God calls us, and his call summons forth a response of heart and soul and body. It calls us into the song of heaven. It calls us into the spirit of God. It calls us into the life of the community that travels together in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Prayer for January 18, 2015

In the mystery of your love, O Lord,
you call people to your service.
Grant us open ears and willing hearts
that we may respond with joy
and follow you in faith;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 18, 2015

First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-20
“Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” – Samuel, the gift of God to Hannah when she cried out in her barrenness, whom she entrusted as a child to the shrine at Shiloh, is summoned by God while still a child to be the bearer of God’s message.

Psalmody: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.” – A profound and moving psalm describing God’s intimate knowledge and care; there is nowhere in heaven or earth that God will not be with us.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial.” – A fundamental misunderstanding of our freedom in Christ must be answered, not by appeal to the law, but by a recognition that we are in Christ and Christ in us. The community is a vessel of God’s Holy Spirit.

Gospel: John 1:43-51
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
– Jesus calls Philip and Philip goes to get Nathanael saying “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.”

Image: By Sergio bramante (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons