In the Gospel of St. John we heard today, Jesus is beginning to select his disciples. The first one we heard about was Philip. But there a few verses that precede today’s selection where the first of these disciples are chosen.
Let me set the scene for you. John had just baptized Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, had come down and remained on him. The next day, John the Baptizer was standing with two of his disciples. Yes, John had disciples, too, but John knew his role was only temporary in this story. In some cases is called John the Forerunner, especially by the Greek Orthodox Church.
When he sees Jesus walking by his says what should be a very familiar sentence; “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
Where have you heard that before? You know of course, that I say it every Sunday just before we take communion with Jesus. The two disciples hear this and know exactly what it means, and they begin to follow Jesus. They have heard John, and they know this is the man they really need to be following.
Jesus ask them, “What do you seek?” “What are you looking for?” in other words. They say, “Rabbi, or teacher, where are you staying?” They want to be with Jesus, wherever he goes, and wherever he stays. Jesus gives them some great advice, in fact, some of the best advice ever given; “Come and see.”
One of those disciples was Andrew. He went with Jesus and stayed with him. The scriptures say that the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon, and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Messiah means The Anointed One in Hebrew. In English, that is, “The Christ.”
To be anointed with oil in a ceremonial way was to receive the office, the authority, the power of a king, and that of a High Priest. The Messiah that they were looking for would be the greatest High Priest and King, one that would rule not only in Jerusalem, but over the entire world. This is really an astonishing thing. It may not seem so to us who have heard these teachings, but for first century Jews, this was a Big Deal!
The Jews had experienced captivity for a very long time. All of the prophets had foretold the coming of the one who would set them free. He would be the Savior to release them from all captivity. There was a longing for the Messiah so deep that it was a part of their very being.
So for Andrew to say this to Simon, it was a very big deal. Simon met Jesus, who saw something great in Simon. Jesus told him he would be called Cephas, which we translate as Peter, or as my New Testament professor liked to say, Rocky.
Now we come to today’s selection of the Gospel, where Jesus calls Philip, and says those simple, yet profound words, “Follow me.” Philip then found Nathan’a-el, who is just a little skeptical about this.
Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip then said the very words of Jesus, “Come and see.” When Jesus sees Nathan’a-el, he knows he is skeptical, so he tells Nathan’a-el that he saw him under a fig tree before Philip called him. Now Nathan’a-el is a believer! He says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
One thing that strikes me about this story is the simplicity of these men. Here is Jesus, who we in the 21st Century know is God incarnate himself, and who could have chosen some of the greatest men in the world to be his disciples. Why not choose the Pharisees who were the established rulers of the Jews? Surely everyone would follow him if they believed.
Why not choose the Sadducees, the other great Jewish group who didn’t even believe in the afterlife, or even angels, and convert them. That would really convince everyone of his claim to be the Messiah. You might think, if someone was making up this story to try to trick people into believing in Jesus, they would have made a stronger case for his followers to be the true leaders of the Jews.
Instead, Jesus chose ordinary men who led ordinary lives. He chose the simple, the hard-headed, and the ones who, like Nathan’a-el, knew no deceit. We will find out later that he chose weak men, most of whom would abandon him in his darkest hour. It is believed that Rocky couldn’t read or write, and that is was his disciple Mark who wrote down the stories he told.
He chose ordinary men, and gave them an extraordinary gift. He forgave them for being weak, he taught them about the Father’s plans for the world, and he entrusted them with the greatest story ever told, the story of the salvation of the human race.
We know, too, that many women followed Jesus, and he gave them the greatest honor, beginning with his mother, Mary, who meekly submitted herself to God. There was the Samaritan woman at the well who began to spread the knowledge of Jesus to all of the Samaritans, who we know were no friends of the Jews.
There was the woman he saved from stoning, and he forgave her sins, telling her to repent. There was Mary Magdalen, from whom he cast out many demons, who was the first to speak to the risen Lord, and to spread the word of his resurrection among his disciples. The wonderful news would continue to spread out across the region, to places like Corinth, were St. Paul would visit a church and later write letters to them.
We heard from his first letter to them today. He gave them such wonderful encouragement, too. He wrote:
“You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
You, too, dear saints of God, were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. No matter how weak or how strong, how simple or how educated, all of us were set apart for the glory of God, to live not for ourselves, but for him, our God and Father.
Put aside then thoughts about how you will get what you want, and think instead of giving to others out of what you have. Put aside the thoughts about how you will keep what you have, be it money, power, or freedom, and share what you have with others. It is in giving that we receive.
Then you will know the peace of God that passes understanding, and you, too will be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and be filled with his Spirit, unto everlasting Life. Amen.