Where did you get to know Jesus?
John’s treatment of the call of the disciples is a little bit different than what we find in the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
In those Gospels we are drawn a picture of Jesus who strides out after the event of his Baptism, driving by the Spirit to begin assembling his “team.”
Jesus walks by the Lake shore and calls Fishermen from their boats.
Jesus walks through the streets and calls a tax collector from his table.
Jesus walks, and people, crowds follow looking to him for teaching, or healing or to raise questions meant to confront or confound.
That’s the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, a man on the move who gathers, attracts, and challenges.
But John’s Gospel is built a little differently. Instead of a “driven” Jesus, we have a Jesus who performs signs, who engages in long conversations with Nicodemus, with the Woman at the Well, who hangs out at wedding feasts, and around the Temple on several occasions and so is no stranger to the chief priests and scribes, more of a recurring annoyance.
This is a Jesus (in other words) who we get to “know” a little bit more. It is a Jesus who is maybe more attuned to our sensibilities in a social media influenced culture.
In today’s Gospel, it’s almost like Facebook isn’t it, minus the computers and handheld devices.
Jesus meets Philip, who is “tagged” by Jesus, and who we know is also tagged by Peter and Andrew as friends. Philip then goes on to tag Jesus, and brings him along so that Nathaniel can meet him as well, but when Jesus sees Nathaniel it’s almost like he’s seen him in the news feed before. “Here is a true Israelite, one in whom there is no guile….. I saw you under the fig tree before we met!”
It’s not exactly a “viral” Jesus, but the picture we get in John’s Gospel is of a Jesus who is most certainly more socially interactive. It’s not just Jesus going out and calling the 12, now he’s got this web of people all interacting, calling to one another “come and see.”
It’s not a “Jesus in spurts” of healing, and then retreating, teaching and then withdrawing, the enigmatic Jesus who sets his face to Jerusalem and then invites us to get in step, take up your cross, and follow.” In John we meet a Jesus who seems to have time to chit-chat, who takes the time needed to get to know a person, and who then offers life abundant, living water, and life everlasting.
So, I’ll ask you again, where did you get to know Jesus? When did you “tag” him in your life?
For some of us that’s a difficult question to answer. It’s difficult because, well, Jesus has always just been kind of been hanging around. We heard about Jesus from Sunday School teachers and pastors. We sang “Jesus loves me” ever since we can remember. Our “getting to know” Jesus has been a life-long venture.
Still, there may be faces and moments that stand out, even for those who have always had him around.
Maybe it’s the little old lady who taught you in Sunday School.
Maybe it was the camp counselor who listened and talked to you of their faith as you wove a friendship bracelet, or sat around a campfire.
Maybe you got to know Jesus on a mission trip, or working side by side with other people building a house or stitching a quilt or packing a pantry order. Meeting Jesus in the doing of the work as disciples.
Or maybe you got to know Jesus from the preaching of that beloved pastor, or the book study led by the retired teacher, or at the coffee shop gathering, or the song that moved.
Maybe you didn’t really get to know Jesus until your faith was tested in some way. The decision to enter a field of study, or a job that didn’t go so well at first. The health scare or the family struggle that drove you to your knees.
We all have our stories, (in other words) of moments, even in our “always there” experience of when we got to know Jesus a little bit better, where the promises became a bit more powerful and clear.
Still others of us here may have quite a different response to that “where did you get to know Jesus?” question. Not everyone grew up singing “Jesus loves me.”
Some will tell you about getting to know Jesus late in life.
Reading a Gospel for the first time seeking ammunition as an atheist to use against those silly Christians, only to discover in the reading the living God and the beginning of faith.
Others got to know Jesus after marrying a spouse who continued in their faith, absorbing new habits and raising new questions never before entertained.
Maybe you got to know Jesus after you had kids of your own and wanted more for them than you had as you were growing up.
And maybe you are in the corner with Nathaniel this morning, still trying to decide what you think about Jesus.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he snorts. You can practically hear him questioning what that backwater Galilean town has to offer him?
Maybe you are right there with Nathaniel today in your own skepticism.
Whether you’re a person who grew up with Jesus always in the background or someone who is new to this matter of ordering your life around him, you ask the question deep down, “What does a 2000 year old small town Galilean who spouts pithy little sayings and teachings really have to offer me? Is it anything good?
I’m not pointing out the “Nathaniel Skepticism” here to push us into any overtly political conversations or to be disparaging, but rather to point out that these questions and struggles continue to hover for both those who have gotten to know Jesus over many years and for those who are new to the invitation to follow.
Can anything “good” come out of following Jesus in this crazy world today? Is it worth my effort, my time, and all the complications that come because of it for me to “get to know” Jesus?
It is a fair question.
Isn’t it far easier to simply “tip my hat to religion,” and then just live the way I want to, the way I please, the way that is in step with the direction of Empire and that doesn’t put me in conflict with the way the world works?
After all, “When did you get to know Jesus?” is a question that seems to be soon followed by, “Will it make any difference?”
Will I change?
Will I risk loving my neighbor instead of looking out for myself?
Will I cross and open borders and boundaries, or fortify them?
Am I going to be careful not to mix things up too much, just keep to my own opinions and my own areas of comfort, or will I follow this Jesus of John’s Gospel in getting to know those who are very different from who I am, opening myself up to dialog with them that may lead to life?
When did you get to know Jesus? Did you? Do you?
I don’t want to be too hard on you, and I especially don’t want you to be too hard on yourself in this matter because getting stuck on whether we know Jesus or not, for that misses the Gospel moment in this story.
For all the introductions going on, all the “tagging” of one another, all the “come and see” moments, the core of this story really has to do with what Nathaniel asks Jesus.
“When did YOU get to know me?”
This is question that comes when Nathaniel is most skeptical, and it is the question that strips him bare and causes him to make his profession of faith.
What Nathaniel wants to know is when Jesus got to know him so well?
Nathaniel, with all his skepticism, all his doubts and foibles, all his bad-mouthing of Jesus’ own home town and grumbling about the world, is caught off guard by this man who seems to know him.
When did Jesus get to know Nathaniel? Was it not in the midst of all those struggles, doubts, and failings he was voicing? Feeling?
Isn’t that why Jesus says, “here’s one in which there is no guile.” Here’s a guy who isn’t afraid to let it be known that he’s not sold on this “found the Messiah” thing at all, that he can’t see what is in it for him, or how it could possibly change his world.
The moment of grace and gospel in this story is not found in Nathaniel getting to know Jesus. There will be plenty of time for that.
“Getting to know” Jesus doesn’t become a kind of “ramp up” into doing the right thing.
The moment of grace and gospel is found in that Jesus knows Nathaniel… and knowing what Nathaniel is like, still comes out to meet him and wants to keep him in the conversation.
Maybe getting to know Jesus isn’t the point of our lives either.
We’re going to be who we will be, and oh, we’ll revert back to the old, skeptical, cynical self in a heartbeat.
That’s just who we are.
But who we are is known by Jesus, and that makes all the difference!
Our confession of faith is not found ultimately in learning enough, changing enough, getting enough of this “following” stuff right to be comfortable around Jesus.
Our confession is found in realizing that Jesus is comfortable with us, right where we are right now.
That doesn’t mean we might not change, for Jesus also seems to know we will be as a result of being in conversation with him, and with the scriptures. As we stay in conversation and contact with Jesus, we follow, we grow, we challenge our own assumptions and become convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. As we continue in relationship and conversation with Jesus in our everyday lives, we are shown greater things, and given opportunity to follow in ways we could not quite imagine from a distance.
When did you get to know Jesus? We can point to moments, events, things in the past, and those are all good things.
But when we get to know Jesus is more about what we decide to do right now, and in the near future. We will get to know Jesus in the midst of our ongoing conversations with him, and about him, and in our connection with our neighbor.
That’s what John’s Gospel shows us this day. That’s the “good news of a Jesus who “tags” us. A Jesus who chooses to walk with us even when we’re skeptical, and who keeps us open to our neighbors and to living with his ongoing conversation in our world.