Second Sunday after the Epiphany · John 1:43-51 · January 18, 2009

By Robert Kolb

Context

Jesus has begun to gather his disciples. John the Baptist’s advertising of this “Lamb of God” has attracted the curious (1:15-37). Simon and Andrew have come to Jesus, and Simon has already begun to experience what it means when Jesus takes over a person’s life. Jesus changed his name, gave him a new identity—even without Simon’s asking (1:37-42). That is what one has to expect when one encounters Jesus.

Textual notes

1. The simplicity of the story in the text is most impressive. The dramatic details are spare. Jesus simply says, “Follow me.” He does not try to persuade or make an attractive offer. He commands. His Word creates a new reality. After all, he is the Word who in the beginning made all things. Making new, recreating, is just in his blood.

2. Nathanael’s first reaction to Jesus is the typical reaction of the sinner who wants to remain in charge of life. His prejudiced reaction—nothing good in Nazareth—was a defensive reaction against the claims that could come from the One who really was the One of whom Moses and the prophets had written. Nathanael thought he knew better: no good from Nazareth, and with this judgment he protected himself from Jesus’ call and command to follow, from Jesus’ dethroning Nathanael as lord of his own life.

3. Then Jesus turned Nathanael’s judgment and life around. It is not clear why Jesus’ seeing him under the fig tree so impressed Nathanael; nevertheless, he was impressed. He decided that Jesus must be the very best that God had to offer. He must be the Messiah, Israel’s King, and that special Son of God that David had been. Nathanael was still trying to be in charge, identifying Jesus and placing this Messiah in his own box. The Lord exploded Nathanael’s noblest conception, that this man was the chosen Deliverer from David’s line.

4. Jesus told Nathanael that that was not the half of it. Without being wrong, he was not right. For Jesus is even more than the Messiah. He is the Son of Man. With this reference to the tradition that goes back to Daniel 7:13-14, Jesus identified himself with that figure in human form who has the characteristics that God alone can claim: “He was given dominion and glory and rule, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, his kingdom one that will not be destroyed.” God was coming in human form, Daniel prophesied, and Jesus claimed to be this one like a Son of Man, who had been described in intertestamental tradition as having angels ascend from him and descend upon him. For that reason Caiphas found him guilty of blasphemy (Mt 26:63-65; cf. Acts 7:56). This image of the angels ascending and descending was combined with the title “Son of Man” against the background of Genesis 28:12, where angels create a picture and place of God’s promise and presence. There God spoke to Jacob from heaven; now God speaks in these days through his Son.

5. The stark simplicity of John’s telling becomes evident here at the conclusion of the story too. Jesus claims to be God in human flesh, and John follows up with “On the third day there was a wedding.” No pious comment, no fond sentiment can add to the simple claim of Jesus to be our God. We cannot add or subtract anything to/from his Word as it cuts into the heart of our lives, stabbing our Old Adam to death, snipping off the wild growth of unpruned desires, liberating us from the chains of our false conceptions of God and human life, and telling us who is in charge and who we are. Like Simon, we are given a new identity, a new life, and a new way of life; and all that we can do is go to a wedding and live as the new creatures he has made us to be.

Suggested outline

A New Identity

Introduction: Nathanael was minding his own business when Philip interrupted his life with word about Jesus.

I. Like us, Nathanael wanted to be in control. First, his prejudices simply dismissed Jesus: no good from Nazareth. We categorize in this way, as well, to try to stay in charge of life.

II. Jesus impressed Nathanael, but Nathanael still wanted to be in control. He recognized Jesus as Messiah. Jesus had to tell him that this man from Nazareth was more than an earthly deliverer, he was God.

III. Jesus is the Son of Man, of whom Daniel prophesied. He is God in human flesh, who brings the presence and promise of God to us.

IV. Once he has taken control of our lives and given us a new identity in himself, Jesus sends us to serve him in the context of weddings and the other events and situations of everyday life.

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