Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Suggestive, Sassy, and the Silent Observer

First Austin's #JourneyLent
Week One: February 21, 2015

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ John 1:43-51

Philip is great. I see some of myself in Philip. From this text we ascertain that he's read his history books and knows his faith story. I like it when people have read their testaments. Both of them. All of them. Not just the parts that suit an obscure political agenda (#homosexualityisonlyin6bibleverses #abortionisn'tinany). Philip's belief in his faith story is so integrated into his personal narrative that when Jesus calls him, not only does Philip follow him, but he recruits his friends. Philip knows a good thing when he sees it, and invites others to check it out. He is the best kind of friend. "I found this great new restaurant on East 7th - you gotta try it." Or, "I found the Messiah we've been waiting for, you have to meet him!"

I like Nathanael too, whom I see a little of myself in as well. He's kind of like your sassy gay friend who's perfect at calling things like they are: a spade's a spade, and an unfortunate haircut is an unfortunate haircut. Most sentences tend to start with "please" as a subtle reminder that the hearer needs to check in with reality. "Please, you think anything decent ever came from Nazareth?" or "Please, you don't know me!" That's Nathanael. Kind of a skeptic, but when an encounter with Christ shuts him up, he's quick to open his mouth back up again to sing the truth. "You guys, he's not just the King of Israel, he's the Son of God!" Superlatives are never beyond a sassy gay friend.

And I kinda feel like Jesus responds back to Nathanael with a little bit of that aforementioned attitude except smothered in excitement: "Please, you think you know who I am just cause I can see the past? Listen to this. I can see the future too. And there are angels there."


And then there's the real me. The silent observer. The person reading this story almost two millennia later and with a post-enlightenment worldview thinking, "What the...?" Angels are gonna go up and down from earth into heaven? I thought angels weren't real? These men are gonna follow Jesus when messiahs were a dime a dozen in those days? And why were these men always waiting for someone to save them? Take some initiative, boys. "Save yourself!" I want to holler at the text. Honestly, someone go give them the "American dream, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you can change the world" pep talk. The Israelites were always waiting for God to send someone. Waiting for someone to rescue them from political mayhem. Waiting for someone to annihilate their enemies with some form of war or genocide.

The Bible is difficult.

But so is Jesus.

Because Jesus didn't come to get rid of Rome. Instead, he said "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's."

Jesus didn't come for war. Instead, when he was being arrested and Peter whipped out his sword for battle taking a swing at the guard (missing his neck, but catching the ear!), Jesus healed the guard (just stuck that ear right back on there).

Jesus didn't come to make a nation of the Jewish population. Instead, he took his message to all the "unclean" Jews that the "clean" Jews had kicked out (the lepers, prostitutes, mentally ill, etc.) and also preached to the "non-Jews" (the Gentile people). Jesus talked about Jewish trees and grafting in new trees, and all of a sudden, the remnant of Israel, the root of Jesse is growing all kinds of fruit it never had on it before.

Because Jesus turns everything around, and then he turns to fix his gaze on the cross. But instead of slaughtering the oppressive Romans with some heinous plague or pushing down columns to crumble the Colosseum, Jesus slaughters himself.

His body crumbles under the weight of suffocation.

And it is Jesus who is carried to the grave.

Rev. Ann Pittman for First Austin's @JourneyLent series
@anncatherinepittman on Facebook
@annpittman on Twitter

Rev. Ann Catherine Pittman is a freelance writer, actor and itinerant preacher. She currently lives in Colorado with her fiancee where they host retreats for American playwrights. She is also the interim Artistic Director for First Austin’s Trinity Street Players. Learn more at her website or follow her author page on Facebook.