“How Do You Know Me?”Fr. Barnabas Powell
Our society is experiencing a pandemic of mental and psychological confusion when it comes to our identity. From children being butchered to deal with the confusion of growing up, to whole new “tribes” of people being formed around this or that sexual desire or attraction, to us divining ourselves up based on skin color, nationality, or language, or any number of traits that we are using to divide ourselves into competing “teams.”
Of course, this level of confusion and chaos feeds a deep darkness in us humans. The ugly sin sickness of prejudice is an age-old spiritual plague that has fed horrible crimes against people created in the image of God. As an aside, who do you think is behind encouraging us to divide ourselves up like this? And what do you think is the reason for this destructive division?
Prejudice is always the ugly counterfeit to true discernment and good judgment. But we humans all too often confuse these realities to our detriment. As a man who has grown up in the American South, I can readily attest to the sickness of prejudice in society, in communities, and my own heart.
By God’s grace, in my area of the South, I have witnessed the powerful changes that have occurred in society as education and authentic Christian love have replaced the ignorant prejudice of the past. And yet, if we were honest with each other, you and I would have to confess that, in too many instances, our hearts and heads still harbor prejudiced attitudes and thoughts. We think we know ourselves and others based on these shallow labels we resort to to make sense of our world, but the problem is we don’t know ourselves and our neighbors and that blindness leads to destruction.
In our Gospel Lesson today, we see even a future Apostle and great disciple of our Lord Jesus as he faces his prejudice. Look at John 1:43-51:
At that time, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and he said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Here we meet St. Philip and St. Nathaniel, both of whom become Apostles of the Lord and great heroes of the faith. Today is the feast day for St. Philip and it is such a joy to be able to read about this great hero as he confronts his friend with that friend’s spiritual blindness.
Notice three distinct actions that reveal the hearts of each person.
First, notice the actions and words of St. Philip. Having found Christ, Philip naturally shares this “good news” with his dear friend Nathaniel. And when Nathaniel objects to Christ coming from a particular part of the world, Philip doesn’t condemn Nathaniel. He doesn’t rebuke Nathaniel. He doesn’t play on their friendship and gets defensive with his friend (“Don’t you trust me, Nathaniel”). Philip doesn’t make the conversation about himself. He keeps the focus on Christ and says to his friend “Come and see.” Brilliant, Humble, and Confident, all at the same time! A+ Philip!
Next, notice the actions of Nathaniel. When told the “good news” of Christ by his friend, Nathaniel immediately reveals his own heart in his response to his friend. He reveals that his friendship with Philip isn’t nearly as important to Nathaniel as his ego and ideas. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel’s friendship with Philip is overshadowed by his prejudice and his ego. But when Nathaniel is confronted by Christ, he is willing to admit when he is wrong. He is quick to repent. And all this reveals that Nathaniel’s prejudice isn’t stronger than his integrity and his love for God. Thank God!
Finally, notice the actions of our Lord. He knows Nathaniel better than Nathaniel knows himself. He knows and loves Philip and reveals this by seeing into Nathaniel’s heart and immediately revealing why Philip loved and trusted Nathaniel in the first place. Nathaniel was an “Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus affirms both Philip’s good judgment in befriending Nathaniel and his bringing Nathaniel to Christ and He affirms the deepest truth about Nathaniel himself. Nathaniel is the “real deal” and Christ knows Nathaniel’s shallow prejudice will wither in the Light of this encounter with Christ.
St. Phillip is one of the 12 Apostles chosen by Christ to establish His Church to share the Good News of Christ with the world. St. Phillip was from Bethsaida in Galilee. Phillip was a friend of Sts. Andrew and his younger brother Peter. He was a serious student of the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and he was looking for the promised coming of the Messiah. Notice what he tells Nathaniel today “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote…” Phillip’s hometown of Bethsaida means the “House of the Hunter” and Phillip is certainly a man who was “hunting” for the Messiah and when he found Him, he immediately started telling others about Him. Knowing the Lord transformed Phillip’s life and even allowed Phillip to truly know himself as well.
Today, know that an authentic and continual encounter with Jesus Christ will always burn away the shallow prejudices of our hearts. The closer you get to Christ, the more spiritually disciplined you become, and the more the true nature of everyone you meet will be apparent to you. In knowing Christ, you will be able to know yourself and you will also see beyond the shallow surface traits of your neighbors. You will see people as they are rather than as they fear they appear, or as you foolishly assume they are. The death of prejudice and the wisdom of true discernment and discretion flows from a heart that, first, loves God and longs to be close to Him, and, second, sees everyone else through the gentle and loving Eyes of the Lord we love. This a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. Your disciple and friend, emulator of Your passion, the divinely eloquent Philip, proclaimed You to the world as God. By his entreaties, and through the Theotokos, keep Your Church from lawless enemies, O most merciful.