Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Come and see. This is the response of Nathaniel to Philip when Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see the person about whom Moses and also the prophets wrote about, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. Nathaniel responded with these words: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responded with these words: “Come and see!”
In our first reading today we read about Eli and Samuel. Samuel was a young child that was growing up in the temple of the Lord, and Samuel was Eli’s responsibility for the spiritual, physical, intellectual and overall upbringing of Samuel. We are not told too much about how the upbringing and training in the temple happened, but we remember the story of Hannah, wife of Elkanah when she was praying in the temple, and her grief was so deep she was mouthing her words, but nothing was coming out of her mouth, and it appeared to Eli that she was drunk. He reprimanded her for being drunk in the temple.
She quickly responded by saying that she was not drunk, but was in deep prayer that God would give her a child, because she thought she was barren. Eli then recognized her grief and deep religious fervor and told her to go home because God was going to give her a child. At this time in Eli’s life, he still had the ability to discern the will of God and to speak the mind of God. He could hear God. Later in his life we are told that his eyes were dim, and this is symbolic of his spiritual eyes. He could no longer see and hear the Word of the Lord.
And, Hannah accepted the words of Eli in faith. She conceived and had baby Samuel. When Samuel was old enough to leave his mother, Hannah took Samuel to the temple and dedicated him to God, and gave him to the charge of Eli to be brought up in the temple and went home. His mother brought him clothes from time to time, but Samuel became under the charge of the temple staff that was under the control and oversight of Eli the priest.
It was Eli’s responsibility to make sure that Samuel was taught, tutored, instructed in the ways of temple living. Samuel learned to read and write, and not many people did back in those days, but Samuel was trained and educated under Eli and the other priests. This setting is about Samuel when he was a child, an adolescent, we don’t know for sure, but we know that he was a boy and not yet considered a man.
In this story Samuel is in bed and he hears a voice calling him: Samuel! Samuel! So Samuel runs to Eli’s room and says: Yes, Master Eli, you called? Eli said: I did not call you Samuel. Go back to bed. This happens three times, and on the third time, Eli tells Samuel: Samuel, it is not me calling. It is God. Next time he calls, say: Yes Lord, speak and I will listen. So Samuel goes back to bed and again he hears the calling: Samuel, Samuel! And Samuel says: Speak Lord, for I am listening. And then God spoke to Samuel and told him what he wanted to do with his life, and the choices God wants him to make. Samuel began to learn how to listen to God and to discern what God was calling him to do and to be with his life.
Our psalm today says: Lord you have known me before the beginning. You knew me when I was in my mother’s womb. It reminds me of our gospel reading today where Philip is inviting Nathaniel to come see Jesus. Nathaniel responds: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”? “Come and see”! “Why should I come and see. If Nathaniel was around today his response might be: “I’m not interested in seeing anymore big shot preachers and teachers, and self-proclaimed social media prophets only after money, power and fame. How can this one be any different? Philip would just say, “Come and see”! “I’m not interested in anything that does not go along with my worldview. I’m well read and have some impressive degrees”. Just, come and see”!
Philip takes Nathaniel to meet Jesus. Jesus says to Nathaniel: “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip came to talk to you. And Nathaniel says in astonishment: Rabbi how did you see me before Philip came to me, and how did you know Philip was going to talk to me? Rabbi, you are the son of God”. Jesus says: “Oh yeah…you haven’t seen anything yet.” Nathaniel’s life is transformed.
The Psalm for today as well as this gospel passage is about God knowing us, the “ins and the outs”, above and beyond what we can understand. When God calls us, and when Jesus called Nathaniel, he says: Nathaniel I saw you before Philip told you about me. I was in that process, you know. It was not just an accident. I knew you were going to respond and make the right choice. I called and you answered.
In our lives, Jesus not only calls us to follow Him, but in this calling we make decisions every day. Small decisions, medium and difficult decisions, and very big decisions. It’s important to listen. How we respond to the guidance of God is important. It’s important to be sensitive to the leading of God in our lives. It’s not only important about how it affects us, but it is also important about how our decisions affect others, those around us.
When we respond to God, do we do it in a way that shuts out those around us? Do we exclude hose around us with our own calling, with our own vision? The way we respond to God affects those around us. Maybe something exciting is going on in our lives and we come up to someone that has just had the rug pulled out from underneath them in their life, devastated with something tragic in their life and we are joyful and happy and exclaim: Yes! Aren’t you happy for me? Look what God has done for me. Look at this wonderful thing that God is doing in my life. Aren’t you excited? I am!
The way you respond to God, determines how others will respond to you. It also determines your maturity of response. I think God wants a maturity in our responses and choices, a mature and thoughtful discernment. Yes, it is an individual call. We all have individual callings and guidance from God, but we also have people in our church and community, other people that intersect our pathways, that intersect our lives, and in the way we respond we should take in consideration that we do not offend them.
And, if we take the time to appreciate where others are in their life, then they can, even in their sorrow, appreciate the joy in your own life. That’s how it works. They cannot appreciate your joy unless you appreciate their sorrow.
It reminds me of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Two fire rockets can be shooting up into the sky at the same time, right next to each other. One just makes a big fizzle and falls to the ground, but the other rocket explodes into dazzling colors and fills up the sky with beauty, splendor, and melodious tones, a joy to hear and see. People clap their hands and shout, and horns honk. There are times in our lives that are dazzling with splendor and joy, but others around us might have just made a big fizzle and are falling, lacking wonder and dazzle in their life.
We have to be sensitive to those around us: recognize not only what is going on in our lives, but to appreciate and respect and identify to the best of our ability, what is going on in the lives of those around us. And, we always have to make decisions, to make choices about how God is working in our lives, and that is not always easy.
Jesus is calling. He’s calling for me, and He’s calling for you. He’s calling for us individually, but He’s calling for us collectively, together, as the Body of Christ, as the church. Let’s choose to respond to the leading of the Spirit in our lives. Come and see!
Let’s respond to the one that calls us each by name.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen