For Reflection: this week Gill reflects of Jesus’ promise that you will see greater things than these
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.”
When my nephew was six – he is 35 now, so it was sometime ago– I took him rock climbing in Northumberland – One of the group we were climbing with guided him up the crag and I waited at the top waiting for him to arrive – it was a tricky climb and we were both a bit relieved when he got to the top. As we sat together waiting for others to finish, I started pointing out the view to him: “look over there Michael”, I said, “you can see Holy Island and the Farne Islands – and over there you can see the Cheviot hills.” We sat for a moment together in silent appreciation of the view before us and gazed on the vastness of the sea and the beauty of the light on the hills– and then he turned to me and said: “Aunty Gillian, it’s a pity about them hills – they really get in the way of the view, don’t they?”
We both remember the moment to this day – and in that moment he gave me a lesson in perception – for me the hills were the view – but he wanted to see more – he wanted to see way beyond what we could see.
Of course, we humans are very good at blocking things out to match our world view – and we see this this morning in the exchange with Nathanael when he responds cynically to Phillip’s excitement about Jesus from Nazareth being the One of whom the Prophets had spoken – with:
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nathanael has some opinions, some assumptions, about this back water village called Nazareth, and the near do well people who came from it
Of course, Nathanael isn’t alone. We all make assumptions:
“It’s always been like that; it will never get any better.” “Nothing good can come of that situation.”
Sometimes our assumptions are about other people; how they will behave, what they will say, what we can expect, what they think or believe. Other times we look at particular situation: the state of the middle east or the Church; a teenager trying to grow up and we declare it hopeless. We are sure nothing good can come out of that situation. Then there are those times when we look at ourselves or a part of our life; perhaps it is a secret we have carried for years, the illness we face each day, the hurts we have caused others, the loneliness and lostness of grief, and we say it will never get any better. How can anything good come out of this? We may or may not speak our assumptions out loud but they rattle through our heads and influence what we do.
It is no coincidence that Nathanael is sitting under the fig tree when he makes his comment. It is the fig tree that gave Adam and Eve the leaves behind which they hid from God. It is the fig tree that Jesus will later curse for producing no fruit, no signs of life. Assumptions become our hiding places. They are not fruitful. They keep us from engaging life, ourselves, each other, and God at a deeper level.
For us our Nazareth is our blind spots, how we block our view. At the deepest level our Nazareths are about our understanding of God. We just can’t see how anything good can come out of our Nazareth. We cannot believe that God could be present, active, and revealed in Nazareth whether it be another person, a relationship or situation, or our own life. It’s so hard to see hope in places of despair.
For God, however, Nazareth is the place of God’s manifestation and self-revelation.
In many ways the whole of John’s gospel is an invitation to see beyond our Nazareths – to see beyond the surface of what we can see – to see more. Jesus’ ministry in John begins with a question and an invitation – What do you want? and come and see – it is an invitation to be in a place where you can see differently.
God does not allow himself to be limited by our assumptions. For every Nazareth there is an invitation to “come and see.” For every assumption we make there is a deeper truth to be discovered, a new relationship to be experienced, and a new life to be lived.
As we continue to live with this pandemic it would be easy to despair – to worry that the Church might not survive, that our economy is in tatters – to assume that nothing good can come out of this Nazareth we are in.
But over and over Jesus shows up from the Nazareths of our life and calls us out from under the fig tree. And whenever we leave the fig tree, we open ourselves to see God present and at work in the most unexpected places and people.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has wreaked damage on individual lives, our economy, our education system and our community wellbeing. Now it seems more important than ever that the Church, our Church needs to be at the centre of helping individuals and our community recover and flourish – to follow Phillip’s example and invite people to come and see.
We do so with the invitation from Jesus to follow me and see greater things than these.
To see that the fulfilment of God’s promises happens in Nazareth. The last place we would have thought that possible is the first place God chooses. To see that healing happens where we thought nothing good could happen… that, reconciliation and love are revealed in relationships we were certain nothing good could come from. To see that the seemingly hopeless situations of life begin to bear fruit, that words of forgiveness and compassion are spoken by people we were sure could never say such things.
God puts lives back together in Nazareth, and God who is love will put things together in our Nazareth.
For there is more happening in Nazareth than we ever thought possible. You see, not just “anything good” comes out of Nazareth, The One who is Good, the one who is the love of God made manifest in a human face comes out of Nazareth.
Come and see.
Questions for reflection
- In what ways have your assumptions prevented you seeing beyond the surface of what you can see?
- How have you seen God at work during this crisis and what might we learn from it going forward?
- How might we follow Phillip’s example and invite people to ‘come and see’?