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.


    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.

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.: