“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s a question that comes from the heart of a cynic. It’s born out of prejudice and stereotyping. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s an easy way to disregard a person, a city, a nation. After all, we know what “those people” are like. All of them. Every single one of them.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s not unlike a remark our president allegedly made Less than two weeks ago, regarding Haiti and Africa. It is reported he used more derogatory language than this, but the sentiment is the same. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The discussion we’ve been having in our nation this past week and a half puts a new persecutive on our gospel lesson. It forces us to see it in a way we have never seen it before.
However, the danger is focusing solely on what the president allegedly said while leaving ourselves off the hook. It’s easy for us to make snap judgments about others. It’s easy for us to jump on our high horses of superiority and ride them as far as they can go. It’s easy for us to tweet and post our moral outrage, while patting ourselves on the back for how much more evolved we are as human beings.
I will be the first to admit I’m guilty of doing the superiority dance myself this week. When I heard what our president allegedly said, it made me absolutely furious. I could not comprehend how he could say such a thing. But as I studied our gospel lesson, it forced me to turn the mirror of judgment on myself. It forced me to ask if I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing to a another person or group of people. That’s a lot harder conversation to have, than simply pointing out the faults of others.
So, our jumping off point for this morning is Nathanael’s question “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As we make our way through the story, we will discover that it tells us something about where Jesus is most likely to be found in our world. It also confronts us with an ugly truth about ourselves that we seldom care to admit. So let’s get started.
For me, our gospel lesson actually begins with verse 35 where John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples. Jesus walks by and John exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Two of his disciples, whom we later learn are Andrew and an unnamed disciple, follow Jesus immediately.
When they do this, Jesus turns around and says to them “What are you looking for?” They call him “Rabbi, which means teacher, and ask him where he is staying. Jesus says, “Come and see.” They tag along with him.
Around 4 o’clock that day, Andrew finds his brother Simon, whom Jesus would rename Peter, and says “We have found the Messiah.” It’s implied that Peter decides to go with his brother to the place where Jesus is staying.
Our gospel lessons begins the next day. When Jesus arrives in Galilee, it is assumed that Andrew, Peter, and the unnamed disciples are with him. Jesus comes across Philip, and simply says to him, “Follow me.” It’s implied that Philip does so without hesitation.
As a side note John tells us that Philip is from “Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” For reasons I cannot get into here, this is a bit of a misnomer because Capernaum is Andrew and Peter’s true hometown. Bethsaida is, most likely, a distribution point for their fishing business so they could sell to the Gentiles. That being said, Bethsaida is not exactly a huge city so it’s quite possible that the people in this story knew each other.
So far in John’s narrative everything is going smoothly. Jesus issue the invitation to “Come and see” and “Follow me,” Four people take him up on the offer. A monkey wrench is thrown into the mix when Philip tells Nathanael that he has found the person “about whom Moses” and “also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Philip is full of excitement and enthusiasm. We expect Nathanael to follow suit. Instead, what we get is snark and skepticism: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This is as loaded of a sentence as we find in John’s gospel.
What is implied here is that Nazareth is a “sinkhole city” to use a kinder expression It’s a poor, rural, podunk town with 12-15 extended families living in it. Nathanael is saying, “We all know what THAT kind of town is like. We know that THOSE PEOPLE are like. The Messiah is NOT going to come from a place like THAT. The Messiah is going to come from a place of power like Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jewish people, or Sepphoris, one of the jewels of the Roman empire. which is only 4 miles from Nazareth.”
All of this is implied in Nathanael’s snarky question. He has prejudged the situation. He is oh-so-much wiser than his brother Philip, who must be gullible for following this complete and total stranger from Nazareth. Nazareth: There is NO WAY, God’s Anointed One, could come from THERE!
In response to Nathanael’s snarky question Philip says “Come and see,” which echoes what Jesus said to Andrew and the unnamed disciple the day before. I think what is missing from the story is the LONG conversation Philip and Nathanael must have had that convinced Nathanael to go with his brother to meet Jesus.
I LOVE this part of the story because it tells us something about human nature that we seldom care to admit. It also tells us something about where Jesus is often found in the gospels, and why we should be there, too.
Let’s tackle the first point: human nature. It will not come as a surprise to you that people tend to hang with those who look like them and think like them. We don’t always mean to exclude others, but we often do. Furthermore, we are quick to sort and label people into quick and convenient categories. These categories support our view of the world around us. What got people all riled up is that if the president said what he said, then he is saying that everyone who lives in Haiti or Africa has no value in our world. He would rather have people come from Norway which makes matters even worse.
It’s a snowball of racism and prejudice that grows until it becomes an avalanche of hate and white supremacy. I hope and pray our president does not really feel this way. Because if he does, I’m not really sure what to do with that as a person of faith. It goes against everything I believe.
However, I’m not going to let myself off the hook either. If I am completely honest with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have definitely been guilty of adding to the attitudes that have led to a deeply divided nation. I am suspicious of those who claim to be devout followers of Jesus, but support policies that I believe harm the poor and disenfranchised. While I don’t always say it out loud I often think to myself, “Can anything good come out of Evangelical Christianity?”
God forgive me, for doubting that this can happen. God forgive me for prejudging a group of people and feeling just a little bit superior about myself. It is the same attitude that Nathanael expressed in our gospel lesson. It’s never pretty when it rears its ugly head.
I share this with you this morning because if we cannot be honest with one another in this sacred space, then what are we here for? If we cannot talk about our faults and failures, our sins and prejudices, then I guess we don’t need a Savior because, apparently, we are PERFECT!
Well, I’m not perfect and you’re not perfect. So let’s use this opportunity to think about how the spirit of Nathanael is embodied in us. Perhaps we’ve caught ourselves locking our car door when we end up at traffic light where someone is holding a sign asking for money. Perhaps it’s our comfort with the L and G but we’re not quite sure what to do with the B and the T, in GLBT. Perhaps, it’s a prejudice against the rural poor or the urban poor, those on welfare or those on disability.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. The good news is that Jesus offer us forgiveness for our prejudiced attitudes and actions. When we honestly confront them with ourselves, I believe it gives us the greatest chance to learn how to overcome them.
But we still have a second point to tackle: Looking at the places where Jesus is often found in the gospels. This list will not surprise you in the least. While our gospel lesson is from John, let’s take a look at some of the places where Jesus is found in Mark, since this is the gospel we are exploring this year.
Jesus is found on “the other side of the lake” with “those kind of people,” the Gentiles. He is healing them of their diseases and offering them grace and forgiveness. Jesus is found cleansing a leper, touching someone a good rabbi was forbidden to touch. Jesus is found on the side of a mountain, feeding the multitudes and not asking them, for proof of their citizenship, or their socioeconomic status, or their political affiliation.
I know I’m telling you something you already know, but we need to be reminded of it again, and again, and again. Jesus, continually and consistently reached out to those who had been judged by others. He broke bread with them, taught them, and offered them love and forgiveness. He told us to love our neighbors, and we know he meant all of our neighbors, instead of only those who look like us and think like us.
Friends in Christ, if this is where Jesus is found, it is where we should be found there, too. Perhaps our gospel lesson is challenging us to move beyond our prejudices, be they hidden or revealed, and extend the invitation to everyone to “Come and see.” I don’t have to tell you that our nation is a mess right now. It is more divided than it has ever been in my lifetime. But instead of contributing to the problem, maybe we can be part of the solution. Maybe we can be a source of grace and healing in the lives of others, regardless of who they are or where they are in life. It’s what Jesus did. It’s stated clearly in the Mission and Welcome Statements of our church. Let’s have the courage to embody it in our lives and in our community. AMEN.
Copyright ©2018 David Eck