Consider the following: If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving definitely isn’t for you. Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? It’s because they taste funny. What has four legs and one arm? A happy pit bull. Humor requires that element of ‘getting it’ of understanding in order to be funny. We have all experienced the times when we tell a joke and then people simply look blankly at us because they don’t get it.
We are in the second week of the season after Epiphany. An epiphany, as you recall, is that moment of sudden clarity; it is that moment of sudden understanding. In Christian thought the epiphany refers to when people suddenly ‘get’ that Jesus is God as well as man. This theme of an epiphany, of a moment of ‘getting it’ is one of the most important themes in today’s gospel lesson.
The event in this story happens either several days after the baptism of the Lord, or perhaps right after the Lord has returned from his 40 days in the wilderness. He has spent some time with Andrew and Peter. Then he finds Philip and tells Philip to follow him. Philip apparently says, “OK” and then runs off to find Nathanael. He tells Nathanael, “Hey, we found him! We found the Messiah, and guess what? He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael says, “Yeah, right—out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of there?” You see, he knew about Nazareth. He was from Cana which was a little closer than between here and St. Martins in Hudson. People knew each other from each of the towns, remember, Jesus’ mother Mary and Jesus were invited to a wedding in Cana. Perhaps Mary or Joseph had relatives who lived in Cana we don’t know for sure—but what is certain, people in each town knew of the other town and clearly, at least Nathanael did not think very highly of the folks in Nazareth. So for Philip to say that the Messiah was from Nazareth, well that was quite a stretch for Nathanael. Philip does not try to defend Nazareth or the people of Nazareth, but simply says, “Come and see.”
So Nathanael comes. No doubt he comes with a healthy dose of cynicism. As he approaches, before he has a chance to say anything, Jesus looks up and says, “Well look, a son of Israel without guile.”
What exactly does that mean? What does it mean to be without guile? To be without guile is say what you are thinking. This sort of person is one who doesn’t say what he thinks others want to hear, in fact, literally the phrase without guile means one who is not baiting a hook; Jesus is describing Nathanael’s personality. Perhaps you know someone with this type of personality. These people simply say what they think; they are blunt, perhaps even honest to a fault. Typically this type of person has enough self-confidence to the point that they are not terribly concerned what others may think about them or what others may think about what they say. Most people are not that way. Most people tend to be more guarded—that is not bad either, just a different type of personality.
So anyway, Jesus looks up and says this to Nathanael. This stops Nathanael in his tracks. He knows what kind of person he is, but how does Jesus know? And that is exactly what he asks Jesus, he says, “How do you know me?” You see, totally transparent. Never an unexpressed thought! And Jesus answers him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
At this point Nathanael stops and thinks a minute and then realizes the implications of what Jesus just said to him. Jesus knew him. In fact, Jesus knew all about him. He knew who he was—what kind of person he was and he even knew where he had been. It was at this moment that Nathanael has had this epiphany. Nathanael is overwhelmed, and having the kind of personality that Nathanael has, he says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” He is the first of all the disciples to make this confession.
Suddenly things had become clear to him. Suddenly he realized who Jesus is and who he is in relationship to him. What did Nathanael realize and why did it move him so profoundly? Perhaps he was thinking of the words of Psalm 139. Psalm 139 is one of my favorite Psalms. O LORD; you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. God knows us and knows all about us-where we are, where we were; what we are thinking and even what we are going to say. That is how well he knows us!
What Nathanael realized was that he was known. He realized that he was known inside and outside. What does being known like this mean? How does that affect us? If you are really known by someone else then there are no secrets, right? That person already knows those parts of you that you may not allow others to see. No one else may know, but that one does—so no secrets. Also if someone really knows you, then He also knows your motivations why you do something. This person knows your heart and knows what is meant under each action. If this person who knows all of this still accepts you and still loves you, that would be an incredible source of comfort and security. You would know that you are still accepted and loved even when you have failed at different things. You would have freedom from hiding and shame.
This is the situation we face. We know intellectually anyway that God, that Jesus, knows all about us. He knows our thoughts from afar. He knows what we think and why we think it. He knows where we are and where we were. We cannot go anywhere and not be known by God. But, most of us don’t keep that in mind. We operate as if we are out there alone and by ourselves. Often we think that we are all alone particularly when we are hurting. But He is right there with us and is walking next to us through the whole ordeal.
What I would like us to see this second week of Epiphany is how God knows you. To realize either for the first time or afresh how intimately God knows who you are. Think about how He knows and not just knows you but loves your personality, all your little quirks. He is the one who gave you your particular talents and interests and desires. Think about how he knows all your secrets, your secret thoughts and actions, things that no one else does and He still loves you! Now, depending upon what those secrets are, he may want you to repent or change in some way. Whatever the case, think about how well God knows you! That is pretty comforting. Think about how God cares for you. Not only does He care for you he wants you to walk in relationship with Him. He likes you and want you to spend time with him! He sent Jesus to die for you and for me so that we could be in relationship with him. Think about these things, try to understand them and then talk to Him and feel his presence in your life and heart.
It is the second week of Epiphany. Getting it is important in order to see the humor in jokes but even more importantly as Christians we need to ‘get it’ to realize how much God knows us and still loves us! Amen