EPIPHANY 2 Reflection
“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
When I first looked at this story, my first thought was, what is going on here? Truthfully, that’s often my first thought when I look at a passage of scripture. In this case, I got a little sidetracked, wondering about the significance of the fig tree. But I soon realized that for me, that didn’t really matter. It was probably a clue for John’s contemporaries, but I – we – already know enough about Jesus to know that when he says he sees someone, he really does see them. Sees them as God sees them – us. In all our beauty and uniqueness and potential, as well as all our flaws and failures, and all the things that hold us back from becoming all that we could be. Our history, our wounds, our prejudices.
So, Jesus must also know about Nathaneal’s feelings about Nazareth. After all, just before Jesus walked up to him, Nathaneal said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As the story is told, we might even imagine that Jesus overheard that. But he does not say, here is truly an Israelite in whom there is a lot of prejudice! Or, in whom there is no deceit, but a lot of prejudice. Or even, you have a lot of potential, Nathaneal, but you really need to work on your preconceived ideas of who’s worthy. He wants Nathaneal to join him, to do great things, so why bring up his weaknesses? Nathaneal is so impressed that he seems to forget his prejudice against Nazareth immediately. But we’ve seen this little glimpse of weakness in Nathanael.
We see it in all the disciples. They have to have everything spelled out for them, they argue about who is going to sit at Jesus’s right hand, they doubt his promises. And don’t even let me get started on Simon Peter.
But Jesus calls them, and he keeps them. With all their faults, they’re good enough for Jesus. And so are we. I know this isn’t an original thought, but , at least for me, it’s something of which I need to remind myself, frequently. God loves us, even knowing all the things about us that we don’t want anyone to know.
So, let’s talk about calling – or, if you prefer, inspiration. That’s what I see going on in this passage. One of my favorite Christmas movies is The Bishop’s Wife. It’s an old one (1947), about a bishop who prays for guidance, and suddenly, an angel named Dudley (played by Cary Grant) appears in his study. Everywhere Dudley goes, good things happen. Disasters are averted, people suddenly feel better, chores are accomplished with incredible speed. But the only person in the story who knows that Dudley is an angel is the bishop, who is also the only one who isn’t especially charmed by him. Anyway, there’s a scene in which Dudley and the bishop’s wife pay a visit to an elderly professor, who’s been telling everyone for years that he’s writing a new history of ancient Rome. But the professor confesses to Dudley that he hasn’t actually been able to write a word, because he really doesn’t believe he has anything new to say. Dudley makes a few suggestions, and assures the professor that he’ll have enough time left to finish his book. The next time the professor sees the bishop, he says he’s making amazing progress on the book. And in the end, even the bishop, in spite of his skepticism, gets the guidance he needs.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that Cary Grant is going to appear in my kitchen, offering encouragement. Nor do I think that Jesus is going to walk up to me on Solano Avenue and tell me who I am, or who I could be. Unfortunately, because the angel in the fantasy story, and Jesus, in all the gospel stories, has such charisma, such authority, that people instinctively believe what they say. Whereas, sometimes we don’t trust the encouragement of ordinary people. We think, you’re just saying that to make me feel better. But I do think that we do get the message, sometimes. An inner voice responds to an opportunity, saying, you can do this.
A loved one, a friend, a teacher, a supervisor asks us to do something that’s outside our comfort zone, and that person’s belief in us inspires us. When I think of the times I’ve surprised myself (in a good way), it usually started with something like that.
17 or 18 years ago, at an annual parish meeting, Virginia Schroeder said that the altar guild at St. Alban’s needed more members Now, ironing, polishing, and setting things up precisely have never been my best skills. The very mention of Martha Stewart makes me want to be somewhere else. But I heard a call that day, for whatever reason, and I’ve never regretted it. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, including a couple of really embarrassing ones, but nothing burned down, and now I have compelling evidence for new recruits that they don’t have to be perfect.
And I, and probably many of you, can remember moments in our children’s lives when a teacher or coach brought something out of them that we, as parents, couldn’t have imagined was possible.
When have you felt inspired to do something different? What was it like? Did someone else encourage you, or did you “just know”? How did it work out?
What might any of us be called to right now? How can we listen for that inspiration? Have we ever been that voice for someone else? Might we still be?
The story ends with a promise from Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Answer the call, act on the inspiration, and who knows what might happen?