How many times a day do you make a decision based on a recommendation?
Your mom recommends you take a sweater in case it gets cold. A friend recommends a movie to watch or a show to binge. Your spouse recommends you cook your own supper if you don’t like what’s on the plate in front of you.
It doesn’t have to be someone you know either. What made Amazon so great were the reviews posted by strangers who were able to talk about the product in real ways that advertising couldn’t.
My kids make fun of me because I’m always writing reviews on Yelp. I love recommending restaurants and dishes I think others will enjoy. No matter how beautiful I craft a review, word of mouth is still the best way to get a person to try something.
Combine that with an invitation to come and experience it firsthand…well then…you get today’s gospel reading. (Read all of John 1:43-51 here)
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” - John 1:43-51 -
Fresh from the baptismal waters, Jesus begins to gather his disciples. Unlike other rabbis, Jesus doesn’t pick from the best and brightest from the rabbinical schools, nor does he choose those who come highly recommended. Instead, he goes after ordinary people with unexceptional talents.
First comes Andrew, who was a student of John the Baptist. But when he learns who Jesus is, he tells his brother Simon, and the two decide to follow Jesus.
After them is Philip, who, without witnessing any miracles or hearing any holy proclamations, runs and tells his buddy Nathaniel, “We’ve found the one Moses and the Prophets talked about.” This gets his friend’s attention. When Philip reveals the Messiah is from Nazareth, Nathaniel scoffs, “Are you kidding me? Nothing good has come from that place.”
No matter how good the recommendation is, or who it comes from, we all come with our own biases and prejudices. I can write a stellar review about the teriyaki steak at the local Japanese restaurant, but it’s probably not going to convince a vegan to try it.
We all have our preconceived notions that make us push back. This is true about individuals, communities, and even institutions like the church.
But don’t take my word for it. Just start a conversation about religion or politics and see how people respond. I don’t think of myself as a bias person, but I’ve been guilty of dismissing someone’s opinion based on who they voted for?
Today Nathaniel might say, “Can anything good come from Mississippi?” And Philip pointing to Elvis Presley responds, “Come and see.”
The problem with having preconceived notions, outside of the fact that they show our ignorance, is that they cut us off from the gospel. Nathaniel’s first instinct is to reject Jesus because of some bias he held.
Then again, most of Israel will reject who Jesus for the very same reason. They couldn’t fathom their Messiah and his apostles would come from some backwoods place like Galilee. Many in his own hometown will reject Jesus because he was the son of carpenter not the prince of a king.
Nathaniel struggles to understand what Philip is revealing to him because he has some preconceived idea about people from Nazareth, just as many of us have about people who live in Red States or Blue States.
Ironically, Nathaniel is from Cana, an equally unimpressive village. Nazareth was probably more popular because it was at the crossroad between Jerusalem and Lebanon. People had to pass through it to get to the Mediterranean Sea. No one ever passed through Cana. It was a side trip at best. (MacArthur)
So perhaps Nazareth, being a more popular town, got the brunt of everyone’s prejudice whether deserving or not. There’s a good chance Nathaniel was just echoing the general contempt like people from Fresno often have about us in L.A.
This passage makes me wonder how our own prejudices stop us from seeing Christ in our midst.
How do they keep us from actually living out the gospel? Or serving the will of God?
Tomorrow we will honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. who served the Lord, by exposing our bigotry and prejudices. He said, “One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right when the head is totally wrong.”
Fortunately, the prejudices Nathaniel had in his head, weren’t strong enough to stop him from following his heart. He takes Philip’s recommendation and goes and sees for himself.
When Jesus sees the pair walking toward him (knowing what was said about his hometown) he welcomes the soon to be disciple by saying, “Now here’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Notice it was Jesus who first saw Nathaniel, and it was Jesus who first recognized who he was, a beloved child of God. Our Lord looked at Nathaniel’s heart and put his belovedness above any preconceived notions that had been passed down through generations.
What if we saw and welcomed people that way? What would it be like, if we removed the biases and opinions that blind us and keep us from seeing people the way Jesus sees us?
Jesus’ action of making love the bar by which we welcome people not only change Nathaniel’s opinion of Jesus, but it also transforms his life from that day forward.
That is the power of the gospel. That is the power of love.
Jesus who looked at Nathaniel’s heart for who he truly is, a beloved child of God. By this simple action, Nathaniel, like his companions with him, instantly saw Jesus as the Christ, God’s unbiased, unprejudiced heart who comes from the most unlikely of places to surprise us with unconditional love.
Dr. King understood the power of Divine love. He knew when we have Christ in our heart, we can love everyone without an obstinate belief that puts up a wall or pushes others away.
We can welcome those who are different than us, without clinging to some the notion we’re better than they are because of our wealth, social status, or military strength.
With Christ in our heart, we can help others without prejudice or obstacles and hoops to jump through.
We can truly and faithfully love God, love others, and serve both without causing harm to anyone.
Dr. King knew like Jesus did that, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
When he spoke these words, there was intense racial tension tearing apart the very soul of America. Much of like what is happening today. Friends and family were fighting each other…and innocent people were being harmed and killed because of bigotry and prejudice.
King knew the only way forward, the only way to our country’s healing and salvation would be though love. And not just any love, but the self-giving, unbiased love of God.
Jesus gave us this command, “That you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:12-13).
Jesus reminds us that love is the key to unlocking the space between human behavior and the will of God.
Love is the way of peace; the way of justice and equality. In love, there is no room for biases, bigotry, or prejudices.
“Love is the greatest force in the universe," said Dr. King. "It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God."
Therefore, love is not a recommendation, it’s an integration. It’s about making Divine love a part of your life so that people can come and meet you and me, they see Jesus in the flesh.
It doesn’t matter where you are from, how you were raised, what color your skin is God looks at the heart and blesses it, so we can go and be a blessing of love for all.
But don’t take my recommendation, come and see for yourself - in scripture and prayer - that you are a beloved child of God. From love you were made, and for love you are sent into the heart of Anamesa - to illuminate the light of Christ.
To quote Martin Luther King one more times, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year B vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
MacArthur, John. Twelve Ordinary Men. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002).
Marsh, Michael. interruptingthesilence.com. Jan 16, 2012. (accessed Jan 13, 2018).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”