Thought for the week - 17 January
Old Testament lesson Samuel 3: 1–20.
Gospel John 1: 43-end.
It is interesting isn’t it, what we ask people when we meet them for the first time. Think about it – what do you ask? In my experience most often we ask them what they do, or where they come from. Even the Queen’s famous opening line is “Have you come far?” Once we have asked that, the process follows a pretty set path, our mind races down a particular route. Other things quickly come into play – our accent, the clothes we wear, for example. All of these pieces of information lead us to make judgements about the person we are speaking to.
I think that is what is happening in our Gospel reading for today.
“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.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
Nathaniel immediately makes a judgement based on where Jesus comes from.
Now this judgement is understandable. It is a pretty common view about Nazareth and its inhabitants. Nazareth was a small village during the days of Jesus, perhaps boasting a population of only a few hundred. For another, Nazareth did not have the greatest of reputations politically. Following the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC, the Roman armoury in Sepphoris (four miles from Nazareth) was robbed, and the Romans retaliated by crucifying 2,000 Jews as a disincentive to such revolts. Sepphoris was burned to the ground, and its inhabitants were sold into slavery. Maybe that’s where Joseph and Jesus did some of their construction work. Less than a decade later, when Jesus was just a boy, Judas the Galilean instituted a tax revolt, evoking another crackdown by the Romans in which many were also crucified. Therefore, one can appreciate the jaded words of “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?”
Now we know what this feels like. We know what happens when we tell people we live in Blackpool! People make an immediate judgment – and we know only too well that it is an unfair judgement.
But we are all capable of such rash judgments. In fact, one of the skills of our Evangelist, John, is that he puts us straight into the parable. It is a pretty sure bet that by now you are judging Nathaniel! How dare he jump to that conclusion – and after all we know he was wrong.
But Jesus will have none of this. His response (v47) is (When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him,) “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
Samuel, a young boy in our first reading goes on to be a great prophet – in fact the one who chooses David to be king over Israel. “The LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1Sam 16: v7)
Today we are taught two important lessons.
First, Jesus takes no notice of our background. Jesus is not impressed by our cars, our clothing, our status, our wealth, our appearance. He sees what is in our heart.
Second, we should do likewise. First impressions may be lasting impressions – but they are often wrong!