I’ll begin with a prayer of thanksgiving to God:
you who see us more completely than we know,
give us the capacity to see the beauty
in all people and all creation.
Enable us to trust the power
of your transforming vision for our world,
so we might be disciples of your love and justice.
(Seasons of the Spirit, January 18, 2015)
John’s Gospel does not begin with a wondrous story of the birth of Jesus and a chorus of angels proclaiming good news. Instead, John begins with establishing that Jesus was with God from the beginning of creation and is revealed to humanity as God’s light and love embodied in the world. No one has seen God, John says, but God’s grace and truth can be seen and experienced in the life and ministry of Jesus “who is close to God’s heart and has made God known”. (John 1:18)
John the Baptist is then introduced as the prophet who recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited messiah who gives his own testimony as to how he knows this to be true. He encourages those who trust in him to believe what he is saying and to follow Jesus. Two of John’s disciples that are the first to follow Jesus are Andrew and Peter. (John 1:35-42)
The story continues with the reading we heard this morning about Philip, Nathanael and Jesus. It is at this point that we begin to understand the importance of the relationships of trust and the influence that respect has in the gathering of Jesus’ disciples. Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida as was Philip. We can safely assume they knew each other from the fact that John bothers to mention this connection. It is probable that Philip has heard stories about all the fuss that John the Baptist is making about Jesus. It may even be that Jesus went looking for Philip. John tells us that the day after Andrew and Peter decided to become disciples, Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip and said to him, “follow me”. Philip had a friend named Nathanael with whom he shared his excitement. Nathanael was skeptical that anyone from Nazareth could even remotely be considered as as worth his time and effort. Philip didn’t try to convince him with reasoned argument he simply invited Philip to “come and see” for himself and then decide what he thought.
This invitation to “come and see” and experience Jesus is a recurrent theme in John’s Gospel. Jesus invites Andrew and Peter to “come and see” and spend some time with him and they decide to follow Jesus. (John 1:39) Philip encourages Nathanael to “come and see” and Philip is persuaded by his experience to become a follower. The Samaritan woman that Jesus encounters at Jacob’s well is so excited about her experience that she abandons her water jug and says to whoever will listen,“come and see”. (John 4:29)
It was through this type of enthusiastic and open invitation that the number of followers of the Way of Jesus grew over the years. An invitation attracted their interest and the experience of being part of a community of faith where love, hope, and active participation in working for the good of the wider community kept them together.
One commentary about this subject that caught my interest said,
“Come and see. Think for a moment, about the effect those words might have on you were you to hear them in an everyday context. Would they generate a certain sense of excitement about whatever it might be you were being invited to witness? Perhaps curiosity? Or maybe gratitude that someone thought to include you? Come and see. The words are both simple and warm, issuing an invitation not only to see something, but also to join a community. To come along and be part of something.
Come and see. These words, this invitation, form the heart …of John’s Gospel. John’s story is structured around encounters with Jesus. …across the pages of John’s Gospel there are women and men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, powerful and vulnerable, people of all shapes and sizes and varieties that Jesus meets. And to each one, in one way or another, he says the same thing: come and see. Come and see God do a new thing. Come and see as your future opens up in front of you. Come and see the grace of God made manifest and accessible and available to all. In response, some take up that invitation and follow, while others are puzzled, confused, or simply do not believe Jesus‘ offer. And some not only follow but invite others to do the same.”
There are many examples of people who have been inspired by Jesus, who have dedicated their lives to following his example of speaking and acting for social justice and nurturing passionate and caring communities where the needs of the marginalized are advocated. One such person was Martin Luther King Jr. whose contribution to social justice in the United States is recognized every year on January 15th. King was a baptist minister with a gift for oratory whose beliefs and ideals were grounded firmly in the life and ministry of Jesus. His invitation to follow Jesus’ example was exemplified in his words and actions. He proclaimed justice and the need for peaceful solutions with respect to unjust policies, structures and prejudices. He did not expect everyone to convert to Christianity but simply to treat every human being, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or economic status as deserving of rights, freedom from oppression and love and respect. “Dr. King spoke fervently of a day when all God’s children would join hands and walk together as sisters and brothers.” (Seasons of the Spirit, January 15, 2012, pg. 118) In a speech known today as “The World House”, Dr. King said,
“Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: ‘A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.’ This is the great new problem of humankind. We have inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
Sometimes when I listen to the news of the world as I have this week, I feel a sense of despair that this can ever be achieved. And, then I remember that each small act of kindness, each invitation to be part of something positive and caring does make a difference. It’s been two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth. The ideals that he espoused and embodied inspired and motivated people then and are still inspiring and motivating people now. He and his first followers faced obstacles that I can only barely imagine. They did not give up, they worked together and invited others to do the same.
In a small but significant way we are doing this in our Christian community in Kimberley. Last January during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” Father John and members of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church decided they should not only pray for Christian unity but do something proactive to encourage closer relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Having decided that they set a date and time in February and invited ministry personnel and representatives from all of the churches in Kimberley to attend a meeting to ‘come and see” how we could support each other and be more unified in our call to follow Jesus. I looked back to the official notes taken at that initial meeting. The first item on the agenda, after welcome and introductions, was the question, “Why are we here?”. I recall an enthusiastic discussion and a great feeling of goodwill during that meeting and during subsequent meetings and shared activities. What was noted in the minutes was that it was “agreed that it is a good idea to share ideas, strengths and resources for the community.” (Interchurch meeting of February 20, 2014)
This past Friday evening members from at least five churches in Kimberley shared a meal, worship and fellowship to celebrate the beginning of the 2015, “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”. I am encouraged by the continuing commitment to strengthening relationships and working together where we are able for the good of the wider community.
I’ve chosen to end my reflection this week with a prayer from the 2015, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity resource that speaks to me of Jesus’ call to respond with love and commitment.
following the example of Jesus,
make us witnesses to your love.
Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity.
May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity.
May walls be transformed into bridges.
This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ
in the unity of the Holy Spirit.