You There, Follow Me
This week’s text is John 1:43-51. This is one of the “call” stories. Jesus is beginning His earthly ministry and is gathering those who will help carry forth the Good News. It, to us, all seems so random. I mean Jesus decides to go to Galilee and comes upon Philip. He then, almost casually, says “follow me”. From there, Philip finds Nathaniel and things start to get rolling.
The first lesson is that Jesus calls all of us Right Now. There is no waiting, there is no “getting things in order”. Time and again, as we will see Jesus is calling people to Him immediately. This should give all of us pause to think about what this means in our lives. It is all too human to make excuses as to why we should do something later. Many of us have promised to start that diet tomorrow. Even as noble a figure as St. Augustine prayed for God to make him chaste-just not today. Yet, it is crystal clear that Jesus wants a response Now! This is crucial to remember in this Epiphany Season which is all about the revelation of Jesus as savior of all.
Jesus Finds Us Where We Are
The second takeaway from this text is that Jesus finds us where we are and meets us where we need to be met. He knows us all intimately, better than we know ourselves. As Nathaniel finds out in Verse 48 Jesus knows all about us. He knew what was in Nathaniel’s heart and had seen all this while Nathaniel was lying under a fig tree. God also finds us where we are and knows what we need-a relationship with God through His Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Like Nathaniel, the promise is that we will see and be a part of astounding things as we follow Jesus. There is no promise of a particularly easy earthly life, so we must not be deluded. However, there is the promise of a life of profound meaning and an eternal relationship with God. As we progress through Epiphany on the way to Lent and the Passion of our Lord it is important that we keep this in mind and close to our heart.
The Broader Message
There is another important point being made here that is crucial to keep in mind, especially during this Epiphany Season. Jesus is from Galilee, Nazareth specifically. Galilee was a region that was part of the northern kingdom that was conquered before the southern kingdom of Israel. It was depopulated, then repopulated with people from all over the region. It was a polyglot population. The name of Galilee itself is a shortened (Ha-galil in Hebrew) from Galil ha-goyim, which means “Circle of Peoples”. It was also a rich agricultural region and surrounded by Gentile nations. Even when the Persians allowed the Jews to return from exile, they kept this region directly controlled by the empire, not granting it the autonomy that the south had. Even after the Maccabean revolt freed Israel once again it would be 40 years until Galilee was brought under control and there was always tension between its residents and the more homogeneous Jewish population to the south. I give great credit for this insight to Jean-Pierre Isbouts The History and Archaeology of the Bible found on The Great Courses site.
Nazareth was a backward place, even in this region of “outsiders”. The point of this is that we see here a Jesus that is on the margins, among strangers and suspicious people from a very early point in his life. Nathaniel states (Verse 46), a very common attitude about Nazareth when he says, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”. We find Jesus smack dab in the middle of “nowhere” among a group of people marginalized in Jewish society and viewed with distrust.
All of this is instructive. This shows us from the earliest days of His ministry that Jesus is among and concerned with the marginalized. This shows us a Jesus that is here for everyone. This is of course, as it should be, this being one of the main points of the Epiphany.
So, as we work our way through this season of great revelation, keep in mind that we are to answer God’s call right now, and this Jesus fellow is here for everyone, but with special care and concern for the outsiders among us. We think this and respond accordingly because we believe and obey.
Praise Be to God