Steps of Discipleship: A Reflection on John 1
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We all have our own prejudice and bias. They are products of our cultures, learnings and experiences. However, when prejudice and bias go unchecked, they are destructive to our humanity and tear at the fabric of community.
Like Nathanael, we ask “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” “Can anything good come from Haiti?” “Can anything good from Africa?” “Can anything good come from the other side of the track?” “Can anything good come from that neighborhood on the other side?”
As believers of Christ, we are called to follow Jesus.
What does it mean to follow Jesus the Christ in today’s context where prejudice and bias are rampant and racism is displayed without shame?
1. Step Out
Philip is so excited to meet Jesus the Messiah, he finds his good friend Nathanael and tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And the first thing Nathanael says is, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
Nathanael was blinded by his own bias and prejudice, he could not see and hear Philip’s excitement and desire to share something so special.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? A small, sleepy town out in the boonies? Can anything good come from Haiti? Africa? Caribbean islands? Central America? In order for Nathanael to see Jesus the Messiah, he had to step out of his own prejudices, biases, give Jesus a chance and experience that good things do come from Nazareth, Harlem, Haiti, Africa and all those places and people we look down upon.
2. Step Over
Nathanael is suspicious and doubtful about this person Jesus Philip is so excited about. Really, can anything good come out of Nazareth?
To Nathanael’s prejudiced and biased remark, Philip offers an invitation, “Come and See”.
To accept Philips invitation to “come and see” this Jesus, Nathanael has to step over the imaginary boundaries drawn by his prejudice and bias of his own making.
One thing we have to understand here is that Nathanael is not a bad person. He is actually a really good person. Prejudice and bias is a part of who we are as humans. These are needed for our very survival. However, these also need to be in check to keep us thriving as human community. As Nathanael approaches, Jesus says, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” There aren’t too many who received this kind of compliment from Jesus in the Gospels. He is a very faithful person. Only he is biased and prejudiced because of his culture and experience. To come and meet Jesus, he needs to step over his doubts and suspicion, his prejudice and bias.
Jesus’ ministry consistently was about stepping over the boundaries — over the boundary between Judea and Samaria, over the boundary between Jews and Gentiles, over the boundary between pure and impure, over the boundary between male and female, over the boundary between God’s vision and human’s preconceived notions of what the world is and should be.
To follow Christ is to “step over” the boundary, pushing the accepted parameters that separates people from another, that constantly judges and assign values depending on their social and economic location, where they are from, the color of skin or the language etc.
3. Step Down
As Jesus tells about Nathanael, he is puzzled. “How do you know me?” “I’ve never seen you and this is my first time meeting you.” Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus is showing himself to Nathanael, as someone who is bigger than his own skepticism, prejudice and bias. Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Nathanael’s response is more than a statement. It is actually his faith confession. Until he came and met with Jesus, because Jesus came from Nazareth, Jesus was beneath him and Nathanael saw himself better. Upon meeting Jesus face to face and experiencing him, Nathanael confesses, — “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”– stepping down from his lofty and proud position of privilege just because where Jesus came from and lifting Jesus up in humility.
The word “Understand” is a compound word of “under” and “Stand” put together. To understand means to have the humility to stand under someone else’ challenges, difficulties… to see others not from above them, but coming down to their eye-level so that we can truly see.
4. Step Up
We live in a world that is so divided with all the distinctions and lines along the social and economic rifts, racial lines, cultural differences etc. And the rhetoric and actions that undermines the value of the children of God are rampant.
As we hear Jesus calling to us “Follow Me”, this simple yet not so simple invitation calls us to Step out of our comfort zone, our prejudice and bias, step over the boundaries that keep us from God and others because of our prejudice and bias, and step down from our place of privilege and conceit as Paul says in Philippians, “in humility value others above yourselves” no matter where they are from.
Furthermore, we are called to step up and work for the Kindom of God where ALL people are valued regardless of race, color, gender, identity, social and economic status etc.
Imagine what if Nathanael chose not to step out, step over and step down?
He would have missed out on blessings of life time that spans through eternity.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The Son of God and the King of Israel who would save the world came out of Nazareth! And this Son of God died on the cross for the salvation of ALL people regardless where you are from.
Dr. Gail R. O’Day explains that the concept of discipleship in the Gospel of John is to recognize who Jesus is just as Nathanael recognized Jesus as the Son of God.
As we recognize Jesus as the Son of God, our discipleship is also about recognizing all who come from the Nazareths in our world, places like Haiti, Africa, neighborhoods on the other side as the sons and daughters of God.
In what ways will you step out, step over, step down and step up to follow Jesus?
What is one thing you can do to recognize and value sons and daughters of God?