Saturday, January 5, 2019


In the gospel this morning (Saturday) John gives us the scene in which Jesus is calling his first disciples:

Jesus decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow me." 

Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth." But Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,"Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him." Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree." Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." Jesus answered and said to him, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than this." And he said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (Jn 1:43-51).

Notice that Jesus challenges Nathanael, who has just called him" the Son of God, the King of Israel." At that time in First Century Palestine, these were messianic titles, and most Jews were impatiently awaiting the arrival to the Messiah, a military leader who would forcefully expel the occupying forces of the Romans. Over the years, the figure of the coming Messiah had bee combined with the notion of a new King David.

No wonder Jesus challenges Nathanael's titles, and invites him instead to look beyond the idea of an earthly king (a military, political leader) by saying "you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." At the end of John's gospel Jesus assures a worried Pilate, "my kingdom is not of this world" (Jn 18:36). So, John presents us with a very different sort of King.

The feast of the Epiphany (this Sunday January 6) celebrates the arrival of three magoi (astrologers who dealt with the occult) from the East. They are looking for "the newborn king of the Jews." They, too, will quickly learn that this king is not what they were expecting. They find a helpless baby in a simple house (Matthew calls it a house, while Luke has a stable). Did they feel strange offering their rich treasures to this tiny king? Matthew certainly offers us a very different sort of King.

We're all familiar with Luke's portrayal of Jesus' birth in a stable, with a feeding trough for a cradle, a clear sign that this newborn babe is hardly what the world would call a king. Luke offers us a very different sort of king.

Jesus, the "King of Israel" who called Nathaniel, the "newborn king of the Jews" sought by the Magi in Matthew's gospel and adored by shepherds in a stable in Luke's account, our King challenges us, as his followers, to establish his kingdom on earth. Not a kingdom of power, wealth and prestige, but a kingdom of humility, service, openness to others, and boundless love that imitates the Father's love for all of humankind.

So, when we sing our Christmas songs about little King Jesus, let us hear those words as a challenge to imitate our Lord in his humble service and boundless love.

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