Monday, January 15, 2024

Transforming a Worldview


John 1:43-51

Epiphany 2 / Year B

Today’s Gospel reading is tantalizing both for what it tells and for what it does not.  It tells us Philip links Jesus to a long expected prophetic promise, but it does not tell us how or why he makes this connection.  It just reports Jesus says ‘follow me’ and Philip follows. 

But before (or perhaps as) he follows, Philip tracks down Nathanael to let him know what is happening.  On hearing where Jesus is from, Nathanael utters his famous quip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Philip replies with a less famous, but very significant response, “Come and see.” 

In Philip and Nathanael we have examples of two distinctive ways of operating in the world.  Philip is open to possibilities.  He sees people for who they are.  He is drawn to their inner qualities.  Nathanael, on the other hand, makes snap judgments about people based on old and often unfounded stereotypes.  He has an “us and them” outlook which divides people into two groups – those who are like me and those who are not.  He has a tribal mentality.

Who are you more like, Philip or Nathanael?  I am a little like both.  In my better moments I recognize the humanity of people, even if they are very different from me.  But, there are times when I look down my nose at folks who I suspect don’t measure up to my standards.

The Dalai Lama said this:

In today’s interconnected and globalized world, it is now commonplace for people of dissimilar world views, faiths and races to live side by side.  It is a matter of great urgency, therefore, that we find ways to cooperate with one another in a spirit of mutual acceptance and respect…  Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or non-believing, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same.  Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal.  We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love.  We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering.  Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams.  Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones.  We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek.  On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.

Philip, I think, gets this.  Nathanael does not… at first.  Upon meeting him, Jesus says of Nathanael, “Here is a person lacking guile.”  Asked how he knows this, Jesus relates he saw Nathanael earlier when he was sitting under a fig tree.  Well, whatever this is all about, it is all Nathanael needs to know to be convinced: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel.”  It is as if his eyes are opened and all his prejudices and preconceived ideas melt away.

This exact transformation is something we must work for and pray for in today’s world.  It is no longer possible to live in a community where everyone else thinks and acts and looks like you.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu said this:

We must embrace our differences, even celebrate our diversity.  We must glory in the fact God created each of us as unique human beings.  God created us different, but God did not create us for separation.  God created us different that we might recognize our need for one another.  We must reverence our uniqueness, reverence everything that makes us what we are: our language, our culture, our religious tradition.

Philip knew this.  Upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael discovered it.

Tutu goes on:

We are made for goodness.  We are made for love.  We are made for friendliness.  We are made for togetherness.  We are made for all the beautiful things that you and I know.  We are made to tell the world there are no outsiders.  All are welcome… We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.

In this season of Epiphany we celebrate God’s light coming more and more into the world.  And we yearn and strain to be followers, disciples, children of the light.  And as Jesus promised Nathanael, we too, as we allow the light of God’s love dwell in us, will see angels descend and ascend on all we do.