The new year’s lectionary readings bring us to John. First chapter, skipping Jesus as a baby, we go straight to Jesus as a man. A man who knows.
Even before chapter one is done, he is calling people to follow him. ‘The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him “Follow me” ‘ (John 1: 43). Excited and persuaded, Philip tells Nathaniel “we have found the one…”
It’s so easy to be cynical. “The One!” scoffs Nathaniel. But, as it turns out, he’s not so much of a scoffer, as a clear headed sceptic, in the manner of someone who isn’t taken in by fraudsters.
So Nathaniel is a good barometer of the effect Jesus can have on the open minded. Not convinced until Jesus speaks about him though, Nathaniel asks, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip’s answer is perfect: “Come and see”.
We all think we choose to follow Jesus. No, we just respond to his voice, which comes before our choice. It is he who chooses us, of course. Always the way with vocation – from vocare: to call.
Nathaniel may think he’s sauntering towards this Jesus, this man from the Nazareth backwater, reserving his judgment, being cool, but his very name implies a gift from God that he can only receive. And Jesus already knows him: “here is a true Israelite”.
Nathaniel’s astonished question: “How do you know me?” is a lot more than “do I know you?” (the kind of thing you think when a total stranger begins a conversation with you, that you’re not that keen on pursuing).
“How do you know me?” Here he is voicing the deep down all pervasive, universal human desire to be known. To be known by an all powerful Love that doesn’t condemn, but that is not fooled either. Not fooled by our masks, our bravado and our prayers that wish for things that aren’t good for us. He’s like a mirror to our insides.
“How do you know me?” asks Nathaniel. “I saw you”, replies Jesus, the man who knows. And he doesn’t just mean, “I saw you” visually. He means, “I saw everything about you, and always have done. And there’s a good plan for you, if you follow me.” As a Christian, I assume that this is what Jesus is saying to everyone.
Seeing resonates through the rest of the gospel. Seeing and knowing. In contemplative prayer, we are aware of these two things – being seen and being known. And it is enough. At the same time, if it is really the case that Jesus calls everyone, how might I be called upon to help clear the way for a response?