Text: John 1:43-51
Full Sermon Draft
Every now and then you get a text that the received or conventional understand of it is one that you just reject. When I get in that situation it is usually because I find that conventional reading just oh-so-pious. I’m not against piety, but I’m deeply allergic to false piety which is usually a form of euphemism. This text is one of those. The received understanding involves two things: a) evangelism and b) the foresight of Jesus. But both of those understandings of the story of Philip and Nathanael ignore the actual witness give by Philip which is less about Jesus and more about his conception of Jesus and just make the epigram at the end an extraneous disconnected piece. That last bit is what drove me to think deeper. Most critical commentaries will do just what I said, they will declare verse 51 a free floating bit of tradition added here for no particular reason. What ever interpretation you put on it must make that epigram jump out of the story. What does that to me is not to force a miracle story about Jesus’ foresight, or to make too quick a jump to the idea of evangelism. Instead, what makes it jump out is to read the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael as one drenched in irony or a facetious one that Jesus plays along with. The aphorism jumps when you take it a Jesus putting Nathanael on notice that what he has said tongue in cheek, he will come to see in a deeply true way.
When you read the text the way I present in this sermon, what you have is a compare and contrast of two forms of early faith. Philip’s faith is true, but he is remarkably mistaken. His faith needs to be refined. Nathanael’s faith on the other hand might be completely absent or just nascent. He knows the errors of Philip’s, but at least Philip is on the road, Nathanael is being invited to “come and see”. He is being challenged by Jesus to set aside the unearned skepticism and take the smallest step of faith, to openly observe. If he takes this smallest step, he will see heaven open. And that still goes for us. Philip and Nathanael end up being us early in faith.