Who's Finding Whom?

    The first chapter of St. John’s Gospel ends with Philip finding Nathanael and telling him about Jesus. It seems a straight-forward evangelism move: Philip has just met Jesus, and he goes to find someone he knows to tell him about Jesus. But St. John’s text contains subtleties.

    The passage (verses 43-51) begins with: “Jesus found Philip.” When Jesus encounters Philip he tells him to “Follow me.” Philip then goes to find Nathanael. Trying to explain the importance of Jesus, he tells Nathanael Jesus is the one anticipated by the Scriptures, in particular the law and the prophets. But note how Philip begins: “We have found Jesus . . .” Just earlier, St. John had written that Jesus had found Philip; now Philip is claiming to have found Jesus. 

    Who found whom? It seems both are the case. Or to be more precise, it seems that if you have found Jesus, what that really means is that Jesus has found you. None of us finds Jesus on our own; it is Jesus who first finds us.

This is true, as the passage goes on to make clear, with regard to seeing as well as finding. Philip invites Nathanael to come and see Jesus, but before Nathanael gets there, Jesus sees him. This is as if to say, no one ever sees Jesus first; Jesus always sees us before we see him.

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    Some twenty years ago, a friend (a priest-psychologist) told me that the deepest longing every person has is: to be seen. We don’t want to be invisible; we all want someone who knows us and sees us. What St. John is telling us is that Jesus is that person. Jesus knows our heart; he knows whatever goodness we might aspire to; he has watched over everything we have ever done. He sees us. He knows us. He finds us.

    Out & About. The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be on The BFG by Roald Dahl, on Sunday, February 11. We will meet at 5pm at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas; everyone who reads the book is welcome.

    On the web. I preached on the Nathanael story recently at St. Matthew's Cathedral. You can find the sermon here; look on the right for the 9am service for Jan. 14. The sermon begins about 21 minutes in.

Sickness and Happiness

It may have happened to you: a flight to visit people you want to see, but when you get there you are laid low with sickness. In Chicago for an academic conference, I saw an old friend sitting, alone and masked, in the back of the room. She had arrived at the conference a couple of days before, but this was her first time out of her hotel room. It was the last session of the conference; she was feeling better only as it was coming to an end. Along with many others, I was glad to see her.

    More often, I suppose, it happens with families. You haven’t seen each other since maybe last Christmas, but just before you arrived a child got a fever and is now sleeping it off; over the next few days this heavy tiredness comes over first one parent then the other. It was hardly the Christmas visit you had anticipated, and everyone is sorry for that.

    But as you leave, it comes to you: even with sickness, it is still Christmas. 

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    When the Word of God took on our humanity, he took on our vulnerability to disease. The gospels never record Jesus having a sore throat, but it was something that could have happened to him. The gospels do record him being tired and weary—”the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”—even as they also record him staying awake through the night in prayer. Yes, Jesus had command over disease, yet it is impossible to imagine him using that power for his own comfort. When passersby mocked him on the cross, telling him to come down if he really were the Son of God, they were right in this: he could have come down. But he did not use his own authority to preserve himself from death.

    Vulnerability is the point of being a baby, of lying in a manger, of needing to nurse and all the rest. If, dear reader, yours was a Christmas that fell short of expectations, a Christmas interrupted by sickness, it was still Christmas. Jesus has identified himself with everything that is human, and he is one with us throughout our lives, both when our lives unfold as expected and also when they do not.

    Out & About. Thus Sunday (Jan. 14) I am to preach at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas at the 9 and 11:15 a.m. Eucharists. That evening at 5 p.m., also at St. Matthew’s, I will lead a discussion of J. F. Powers’s novel, Morte d’Urban. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to the discussion; others are welcome to come and listen. We meet in the Great Hall: from the parking lot, walk around the church for the entrance. The conversation ends at 6:30.

 

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: