CALLED TO BE A DISCIPLE: Talk given by Angie Foster

Talk given by Angie Foster, Ordinand in Walmsley Parish,
at mid-week communion on 17.1.24 following the Second Sunday of Epiphany
At first glance the story from the Gospel reading [*John 1:43 to the end]  this morning is a straightforward calling by Jesus of a man called Nathanael who comes to Jesus after being told about how amazing he is by Phillip. Nathanael cannot believe it at first because Jesus comes from a neighbouring town called Nazareth which was not known for anything of value. As always when you dig a bit deeper there is a lot more going on!
In our reading Jesus welcomes Nathanael as a man in whom Jesus sees no deceit; in other versions of the Bible it uses the word ‘guile’ which is perhaps a better one. How good it would be there were more people of whom it could be said they had no ‘deceit’  -no ‘guile’ – especially given the fact that it appears that to be a world leader today you need to be a master of lies. Jesus tellingly calls him an ‘Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’
Why does Jesus link together the words Israelite and deceit?
His ancestor Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, the father of the nation, was notorious for being utterly deceitful. Jacob was a liar of Olympic proportions.
  1. He tricked his brother of out his birthright,
  2. He tricked his father out of the blessing intended for Esau,
  3. He tricked his father-in-law out of his belongings
 (And, as if by rough justice, you will remember:)
  1. His own children inherited his trickery when they threw his favourite son Joseph down a well and pretended he had been killed.
Jesus looks at Nathanael and draws attention to the kind of person he wants to follow him. Jesus does not want as his followers those manipulative people like Jacob who get by on trickery and deceit. He wants people who are honest and true.
  1. They do not need to be super skilled in warfare like King David
  2. They do not need the wisdom of Solomon
  3. Or even the prophetic powers of Elijah.
Jesus is on the hunt for people and he does not need them to be superstars.
As my children were keen footballers and followers of the game, they used to play Fantasy Football. They were invited to join a competition by designing a dream team of footballers. You choose your best 11 from any team and you see how they get on in their matches in the coming season: how many goals they score if they are attackers, how many assists, how many clean sheets they deliver if they are in goal. You can pick the best players from across all the teams so maybe you would pick:
  • Erling Haaland from Manchester City as your centre forward
  • You would pick Alisson from Liverpool as your goalkeeper
  • De Bruyne from Manchester City as another attacker,
There may be some good players in other teams and you could pick them as well.
You are choosing on talent, ability to deliver results. When he is looking for people to choose in his team of disciples Jesus looks for abilities which are not the ones most people would put on their CV.
You see Jesus is not like a football manager who helps us develop our skills better so that we can score goals for him, deliver results. Jesus is looking for people who recognise that their own skills and abilities will not deliver spiritual fruit.
When Nathanael marvels at Jesus, Jesus tells him that he has not seen anything yet as  “he will see angels ascending and descending.”
It is another reference to Jacob and a dream which he had of a ladder going up to heaven. Jacob named the place where he had that dream Bethel which means God’s house. Jesus is telling Nathanael that you do not need to go to Bethel any more to see where God lives.
The heavens have opened and Jesus is now God on earth, heaven has come down.
Jesus does not need skilful manipulators or folks who are clever with words to persuade people, or who can do fancy tricks. His real followers will just be ordinary folks like fishermen. God does not need us to be clever to serve him, he just needs faith; which means that anybody can join and Jesus will go further to make this point even more obvious because he will deliberately choose
  • The waifs and the strays
  • The lost and the lonely
  • The desperate and the unloved
  • The sinful and the despised.
All of these he will put in his team. Folks who could not even kick a ball. So, anybody can step forward and become a disciple and nobody has any right to question your ability to be a disciple because Jesus calls anybody and the only qualification you need is to follow. Amen
The Gospel of John 1:43-46
 Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.
 He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip 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.’ 
 Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him,
‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 
 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’
 Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 
 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 
Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 
And 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.’