BIBLE READINGS: Psalm 139: 1-6,13-18 John 1: 43-51
In so many ways, it was the unlikeliest meeting. Nathanael didn't even want to meet the man. He was just doing it as a favour to his friend.
Could Andrew hear himself? The one of whom the prophets spoke? More like some self-appointed teacher from that back woods little town of Nazareth?
It turned out, though, that this man, Jesus, at least had a sense of humour. He responded in kind to Nathanael - “Glad to meet you, Nathanael . . . an Israelite without deceit.”
Now, it might have been a backhanded compliment. Maybe Jesus was saying he appreciated Nathanael speaking his mind - didn't take offence at the whole Nazareth comment.
But we who are overhearing this conversation realize there's a double meaning here. Jesus' calling Nathanael an "Israelite" also brings echoes of the Jacob story into the conversation. Jacob – one of the Fathers of the Jewish people. Jacob, the deceiver, who would be known as Israel.
But Nathanael is an Israelite without deceit.
Well played, Sir. Score in this conversational sparring about hometowns: one all.
An unlikely beginning for a relationship.
Wait a minute, though! Nathanael's smiling, but his mind is racing.
Jesus wasn't there for the Nazareth comment. How did Jesus know what he had said? But even more - Nathanael presses further: How did he know me?
Jesus says he saw Nathanael sitting under that fig tree, but it had to be an extrasensory seeing, a spiritual seeing . . . .
So - Philip was right after all. Now Nathanael is convinced. The traditional phrases come pouring out of Nathanael's mouth. You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.
Jesus confirms it with yet another Jacob reference - this time to Jacob's ladder. He says, "The angels will go up and down on the son of man." That is, upon himself.
He's talking now about Jacob's experience at Bethel in Genesis 28 where heaven approached so close to earth that the inhabitants of the two realms could meet. Now in Jesus - not just in one geographical place - in Jesus, the realm of God would come that near.
It was an unlikely beginning to Nathanael's walk with Jesus, but why not? What is more unlikely than heaven touching earth?
Heaven is where love reigns. Where there is room for all God's children at the table. Where nothing's broken and no one's missing.
Not at all what earth is like. We know what earth is like. A glance at the news shows us a world that couldn't be more different than God's realm of love . . . war, global warming, political gridlock, children locked up in detention centres.
And yet, in Jesus, the unexpected happens. And Nathanael sees it. Heaven gets a foothold on this earth.
Sojourners' Jim Wallis says, "In Jesus, God hits the street." Nathanael - now a follower, however unlikely - will walk that street, too.
It's hard to follow Jesus to unexpected places sometimes. Too often the Reign of God enters our world with a cost
Karl Barth is supposed to have said, "When you preach, you've got to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." He was right. The call of Nathanael reminds us. When we walk with Jesus, we walk in those unlikely places where heaven and earth come near. In this fragmented world, we represent God's reign gaining a foothold here already, and our actions need to show it.
An act of simple hospitality in the midst of want, a hand raised to volunteer for leadership in a community witness - all moments, so often unexpected - where the reign of God comes near, where we catch a glimpse of a time and place where nothing's broken and no one's missing, and a table is spread for all God's children.
May it be so.
Thank you for Nathanael's call and witness. Thank you for the witness of Christian brothers and sisters who have been willing to walk with Jesus in that challenging place where heaven and earth come near. Give us the ears to hear the call, eyes to glimpse your reign among us, and the courage to respond and hit the street with you. In Jesus' name. AMEN.
Acknowledgements: Rev Dr Sharon Watkins; Jim Wallis