Defending Insecure Gods
Reputation matters. We all know this. We get into it with each other on Facebook, at family gatherings, in magazines, through cartoons, even to the point of shedding blood.
The lectionary text this week from the Gospel of John is the call of Philip and Nathaniel.
Nathaniel’s call is interesting. Jesus calls Philip. Philip finds Nathaniel and invites him to come along. Philip is convinced that Jesus is the one they’ve been waiting for. Philip’s messianic dreams are probably all off, but he’s filled with enthusiasm.
Nathaniel is doubtful. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
We begin approaching the world from our tribal biases. Our religions, our nationalities, our political parties, are factions within them.
Nathaniel isn’t impressed by anything that might come from Nazareth. “A savior from Nazareth? Don’t waste my time…”
Philip is persistent, leverages his personal relationship with Nathaniel. Nathaniel reluctantly goes alone.
A Magic Trick
Jesus wants Nathaniel to come so he does a trick. He discloses a bit of insider information, enough to get Nathaniel’s attention.
This move in the context of the gospels is not without hazard. The crowds of Galilee will follow Jesus because of his miracles, but Jesus will find their devotion to him based on these miracles to be shallow and insufficient. Jesus as Miracle Max will not suffice, but Jesus is not above getting the relationship started on these terms.
What was not disclosed but still implied
Now if Jesus saw Nathaniel beneath the fig tree, might he not have also know about Nathaniel’s initial bias against Jesus? Might he not have heard Nathaniel’s doubt and skepticism?
Secure, Humble, Understanding
We find in Jesus able to receive his skeptics without insecurity, defensiveness or a chip on his shoulder. In fact he applaud’s this quality in Nathaniel.
John 1:47 (NET)
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
Psalm 32:2 (NET)
2 How blessed is the one whose wrongdoing the Lord does not punish, in whose spirit there is no deceit.
A God Who Welcomes Skeptics
This Jesus doesn’t seem to have a problem with skeptics. He loves Nathaniel not only in spite of his bias and doubt but for his willingness to live by his convictions, even if the bias of those convictions initially moves him away from Jesus.
Jesus of course will also embrace Thomas, the more famous of the skeptical disciples.
Jesus too will embrace Peter, the one who will lack skepticism, embrace rash enthusiasm, whether that be in the direction of Jesus or cursing him before the cock crows.
The Humble God Without Pretense or Defensiveness
For Jesus to come and live among us he must open himself up to our ridicule, our abuse, our violence, our skepticism, our rejection. He seems perfectly comfortable with this.
While at once establishing himself as the defining witness of the invisible God.
Luke 9:26 (NET)
26 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
He also welcomes and in fact seeks skeptics that hold back and wonder before giving their hearts.
Japanese author Shusaku Endo wrote the book “Silence“. It is novel based around the attempt to end Christianity in Japan during the 17th century. In the novel a young priest is sent to investigate the apostasy of a Jesuit brother.
Christians are being arrested, tortured and killed. Those alive are being coerced to renounce their face by stepping on the “fumie”, a crudely carved image of Christ.
In the climax of the novel Christ breaks his silence and invites the priest to trample upon him.
Yet the face was different from that on which the priest had gazed so often in Portugal, in Rome, in Goa and in Macau. It was not Christ whose face was filled with majesty and glory; neither was it a face made beautiful by endurance to pain; nor was it a face with strength of a will that has repelled temptation. The face of the man who then lay at his feet [in the fumie] was sunken and utterly exhausted…The sorrow it had gazed up at him [Rodrigues] as the eyes spoke appealingly: ‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.’
This Jesus offers his face for our spitting, his reputation for our smearing, his blood for our drinking, and his life for our living.