Jesus is the Messiah
Grace and peace to you from God, the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Good old Nathanael. In a way, this disciple’s name is a mystery because he doesn’t appear in Matthew, Mark, or Luke–only John’s gospel. We DO know he comes from an obscure Galilean village and is a fisherman, like Peter. His village is Cana–not very distinguished. It would be like Newark to New York City, or St. Charles to St. Louis.
Actually, the whole region of Galilee is more or less a “backwater” place, known mostly for the Sea of Galilee, much more a lake than a sea. Most people thought the place dull. Jesus was from this area–the town of Nazareth. Galilee’s Cana and Nazareth were about 10 miles apart–wide spots in the road, if anything.
So here is Nathanael–an ordinary young man, with all the hopes of any young man of the time. One day he is minding his own business, mending a net and doing what fishermen do when they’re not in the water, and his friend Philip approaches him. Philip is super excited. “We’ve found the Messiah!” Philip tells him. And Philip says further, “He’s the one we always heard about and hoped for!”
Nathanael lays down his net and wonders. Could this possibly be? With his heart in his throat, he asks Philip: “Who IS he? WHERE did he come from?” Then comes Philip’s embarrassing reply: “He’s the son of Joseph. Jesus from Nazareth.”
Before the words get out, Philip can see Nathanael’s disappointment. Wouldn’t it have to be somebody like David of Jerusalem or Elijah of Washington D.C.? … Or maybe somebody from some place glamorous? … Why did it have to be Nazareth? …
Nathanael scowls and begins to fix his net again. Philip waits. Then he says to Nathanael: “Well, what about it?” Nathanael finally looks up and says, “Hmm, Jesus of Podunk. So what? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Out of No-Where’s-Ville?
Nathanael continues. … “Philip, I can tell you at least three strikes against Nazareth. First of all, it’s too small. What this country needs is somebody from some place important. Someone who will make the Romans sit up and take notice. Nazareth? It’s NOWHERE. No one is going to pay attention.”
“The second thing is that MY hometown is TWICE as important as Nazareth. Really?! Our rowing team beats theirs every season. Hey, the big pockets and the fat cats in Jerusalem don’t even know Nazareth is here.”
“And the third thing–and this says it all, I think, Philip–is how do you expect the Messiah to come from somewhere not even mentioned in the Torah? … No, Philip, I don’t believe you’ve found the Messiah. Who you’ve found is probably just another dreamer like yourself. This person, Jesus, is just the son of a carpenter. He probably ate too many figs one night and had a dream. That’s all this probably is.”
Philip now feels the perspiration run down his back. He isn’t going to argue. He knows Nathanael, and he knows arguing with him won’t get him convinced. But, Philip knows he has to do SOMETHING. Then it comes to Philip. He says, “Come and see. Nathanael, come and see.” … And, surprise of surprises!–Nathanael gets up and goes and comes with Philip to see.
Nathanael comes, sees, and finds and realizes he has gotten more than he’d bargained for. Because Nathanael not only finds out from Jesus who Jesus is–the Messiah–Nathanael finds out from Jesus who NATHANAEL is–and who Nathanael will be. Nathanael is being changed and learning so much about himself. As Jesus says to Nathanael, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile, no deceit,” Nathanael had not thought of himself that way. But, now, come to think about it, that IS who he is.
To receive this Son of God, Son of Man, Jesus proves himself, so to speak, to Nathanael. How does this affect and impact Nathanael’s life? A sense of calling–first of all, and, then, even deeper–a resonance–comes within Nathanael. And, through Jesus’ words, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?–You will even see greater things than these,” the entire trajectory of Nathanael’s life and interaction with the Messiah is now set.
The next time we hear about Nathanael is at the end of the gospel of John, where Nathanael is among those in the boat when Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast their nets. It is interesting what author Fred Buechner says about Nathanael at this stage in Nathanael’s life. Mr. Buechner remarks: Nathanael doesn’t appear on any list of apostles, and he probably considered it honor enough just to have been on hand that morning on the beach–especially considering his unfortunate remark about Nazareth he had made to Philip long ago.
Especially here Nathanael finds and resonates with Jesus as Messiah–the Resurrected Christ. Because Jesus, after being crucified, dying, and resurrected, then gives them all a mighty catch. Nathanael has come and seen and followed and found and stayed. Affirmatively, Jesus IS the Messiah.
What does this all mean for US? Is Jesus the Messiah? Is Jesus YOUR Messiah? You and I may find ourselves saying of our own circumstances, places, and meanings of our lives–“Can anything good come out of this?” This is where we again remember who Christ is and that Christ is still calling us. And, that, no matter how rich or poor, young or old–no matter who we are, no matter how conspicuous or inconspicuous our gifts and talents–we are welcomed to come and see Jesus, to hear and perceive, to seek, and to follow.
We, like Nathanael, can discover there is more to us than we had ever suspected was there. Our usefulness can be found and surface for the sake of something greater than ourselves. Jesus, the Son of God, stretched his arms out in suffering for the world, and then Jesus opens heaven for all. Impressed by Jesus giving himself for humanity’s deepest need–forgiveness, life, and salvation–and finding we can be received and known by God–we can then respond to God and follow Jesus. Further, we can turn our attention to the world God loves.
We are most fully alive and thriving as we perceive, seek, see, find, and stay with the Messiah of Nazareth. May it always be so. Our identity is in Him.
And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.