(THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY)
Molly Jane Layton
Come and see! the young girl says to her mother, impatient to display her fingerpainting.
Come and see! the teenage skateboarder says to his crush, eager to show off his newest trick.
Come and see! the research assistant says to her stern supervisor, hopeful to gain approval.
Come and see. Three words full of invitation and hope in the speaker. And three words which
can spark everything from wonder to skepticism in the hearer.
What will that mother find at the fingerpainting table? A masterpiece or a mess?
Is that crush open to being impressed? Or annoyed at being called away from her girlfriends?
Will the discovery be enough to crack through the supervisor’s hard outer shell?
Regardless, the invitation still stands.
You could perhaps make “Come and see” the slogan of the whole season of Epiphany, which we are in right now. Epiphany comes from the Greek word that means “a coming to light” or “an appearing.” 1 At Christmas, Jesus, the Son of God, appeared as the Savior of the world. And now, in Epiphany, our gospel texts center around important moments in Jesus’s ministry where aspects of his identity are revealed to us, such as his baptism last week. We are invited, along with the disciples, the crowds, and the religious leaders, to come and who this Messiah is. Our gospel reading today describes the calling of Philip and Nathanael, two of Jesus’s disciples. Philip is so excited about who Jesus is that when Jesus asks him to follow him, he immediately runs off to find Nathanael to get him to join, too. Nathanael, however, is a bit more skeptical. “Wait – you said he came from Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nazareth was a small, backwater town in Galilee, an out of the way region not particularly
known for anything besides its fishermen and its tendency to produce revolutionaries. This is
why Nathanael doubts that the one written about by Moses and the prophets could possibly come from there. Certainly he would come from somewhere a bit closer to Jerusalem, right? Actually, no. Jesus came from Nazareth. And the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth reveals to us something important about God’s love for the world: God does not send his Son into the circles of power, into the places where it looks like everyone has their act together, into the places where he can make the right connections and get ahead. God sends his Son to minister to the people at the margins, to the places where people struggle to make ends meet, to the places where people are more likely to spend all night fishing than to loudly drop lots of coins into the temple collection plate.
When Nathanael meets Jesus, his response to him shifts from skepticism to wonder. Although
they have never met before, Jesus displays intimate knowledge of Nathanael’s character and his actions. This blows Nathanael’s mind. His skepticism now completely gone, he acknowledges 1 Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon
Jesus as both the Son of God and the King of Israel, which is a pretty amazing declaration for an Israelite to make. But instead of patting Nathanael on the back, Jesus gently chides him. “That’s all it took for you to believe? You will see far greater things than that! Even angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man!”
Although a bit more cryptic, this revelation is just as important as the previous one. Jesus alludes to the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, where Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth. Thus, Jesus identifies himself with the ladder, as the locus of contact between heaven and earth, the place where earthly humans find the connection to their heavenly Father. Furthermore, New Testament scholar Raymond Brown points out that the phrase “greater things” in other places in the Gospel of John refers to Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension. 2 Thus, Jesus is obliquely telling Nathanael to “hold his horses” because the best is yet to come. It’s too much for the disciples to handle right now, so Jesus doesn’t spell it out clearly. But Jesus knows what is coming and is already preparing them to understand the climax of his ministry. Through his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus becomes the very way to God. This, truly, is worthy of our wonder.
Friends, these revelations about Jesus are good news for us today. Our skepticism may sound
different than Nathanael’s, but it is still just as real. Can anything good come out of a global
pandemic? Can anything good come out of political violence? Can anything good come out of a country with a brutally racist past? We need to know that Jesus, by being our way to God, can heal and redeem our lives and our world.
And so, the invitation stands.
Come and see, that Jesus does not shy away from the hard places in our lives. Come and see that he does not abandon us for the circles of power or leave us for people who look like they have it all together. Come and see that he is present with us in our struggles and in our pain and in our fear. Come and see how he is our pathway to God’s love and affection. Come and see how his death, resurrection, and ascension are our hope and our light in the midst of the darkness. Come and see. Amen.