“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1: 46
From now through Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season we will be traveling with Jesus as he begins his ministry and goes from town to town.
Choosing followers, teaching, preaching, healing, fulfilling his mission as the Messiah. In today’s assigned scripture he picks his second two disciples: Philip and Nathanael.
For you bible students among us this morning, yes, this is the only mention of Jesus calling a man named Nathanael to be a disciple in all of the four gospels. However, Bartholomew which is a last name and is mentioned elsewhere as a disciple may actually be the last name of Nathanael which is a first name. Most likely they are one and the same person.
As I read and reread today’s text in preparation for this morning what caught my attention is a response that Nathanael makes to his friend Philip who has just shared about finding the Messiah, the man from Nazareth. It is not the kind of response we expect to hear from one of the soon to be chosen. One of the Twelve Disciples. Philip is really excited: We’ve found him! We’ve found him! Moses wrote about him, the prophets foretold his coming, it is Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth!!
The reader is expecting to hear Nathanael respond with: Wow! Great! This is fantastic! Can I meet him too! But instead, “Mr. Resting My Tush” under the shady fig tree responds: Nazareth! Can anything good come out of Nazareth?!?
Woah! Wait a minute! Nathanael has just made a shocking assumption! What does assumption have to do with the story of Jesus in Galilee at the beginning of his ministry choosing his disciples? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Let’s take some time today and think about assumptions, our lives and our faith. First off, how do we define assumption? I asked a couple of people this week that question and they replied to make an assumption means that you make a decision without all the facts, all the data you need to make a truly informed opinion or belief. An assumption is a sort of incomplete understanding or lack thereof of something or someone.
Has anyone ever made an assumption about you? I’m reminded of a story about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He and his friends were using an elevator in the fancy hotel where they were staying. When the doors opened, a white woman stepped in, glanced at Dr. King and ordered “Eighth Floor.” His friends said he just stepped up, pressed the correct button and smiled. Little did the woman know the man she thought was the elevator operator had just delivered an address to 250,000 supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
There is a lot of racism in assumption. We assume that a person of color should not be birdwatching in the park. We assume a person of color stole our iphone. We assume that a person of color may be a poor credit risk. We assume a person of color is exactly like the one person of color who insulted our grandmother seventy years ago. The thing about assumptions is they are not based on facts or are based on a very incomplete set of facts or may even be based on erroneous “facts.”
When I served as one of the associate pastors at the Haddonfield United Methodist Church at staff meetings we would discuss the current pastoral needs of our very large congregation and our retired minister who did visitation would brief us on the homebound. There was one older woman who lived alone in town, she was a widow and didn’t really have any family to step up and help care for her. When we drove by we could see that her house was becoming neglected. Paint peeling, yard overgrown. This older minister, one Rev. Champ Goldy, shared that he had started to mow her lawn every other week because it was apparent to him that she didn’t even have enough to pay a neighborhood kid to take care of it. To help her out he kindly became her lawn boy.
Less than a year later the woman died. In her will she bequeathed her entire estate to the church. Let me tell you that the Haddonfield Church has many very, very wealthy members, but her bequest in the millions was the largest the church had ever received. Who would have thought? At the Council Meeting where the good news was read to us, someone made a motion: Let’s pay Rev. Goldy five dollars for each time he mowed her lawn. We all had a good laugh together. Assumptions. We assumed she didn’t have two nickels to rub together. Our assumption was oh so wrong.
Sometimes assumptions affect us personally. As a woman pastor, congregations used to assume we were all alike. When I was appointed to Manahawkin, one couple left before I even arrived because “We’ve already had a woman minister.” They made a decision based on incomplete evidence and research and getting to meet their new pastor.
Assumptions have played a tremendous role in our country this week. Statements made that have little or erroneous or no facts to back them up have fueled a furor. False beliefs, false statements, and false behavior culminated in an atrocious attack on our lawmakers and the capital building itself. Assumptions like we have to be divided. Assumptions like there is no middle, healing ground. Assumptions like violence is the only way to make a point. Assumptions like our voting process was flawed. Assumptions like our political parties can’t serve all American peoples with decency, respect and integrity.
Nazareth! Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Jesus, the Messiah, the one Moses and the prophets foretold, Jesus Son of Joseph from Nazareth, came to us to get rid of assumptions and replace them with truth. He said you will know this truth and it will set you free. Assumptions chain us to stuff that is wrong. Stereotypes, racism, sexism, misogyny, agism, so on and so forth.
Jesus came so that we might rise above assumptions and instead replace division and hatred with reconciliation and justice for all. In our church membership vows, every one of us has vowed to “fight evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” And that “we will accept the freedom and power God gives us” to do just that!
This morning’s gospel lesson does not end with Nathanael’s assumption. He meets Christ and learns that Christ knows him well, has seen into his heart while he was resting under a fig tree. You know, Jesus saw everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, but still choose Nathanael because he also saw what he could become, his potential to learn more, find out the facts, be on God’s side.
I believe that is exactly what Jesus does with us. We are Christians because he has called us. We are to set aside our assumptions that turn us away from the paths of righteousness. And we are to live our daily lives seeking the facts and the truth and not making assumptions. I’m glad that gospel writer John did not neglect to include Nathanael’s outburst. It’s a good lesson for each of us to learn. Let us pray.
Gracious God, Look into our hearts and see our potential and promise to continue to become more like You! Inspire us and free us from the prison of assumptions that cripple our faith and engender misunderstanding and hatred. Amen.