On we go through this Gospel of John. It seems that we’ll never get out of this first chapter...but this Sunday will be our last time in chapter one. Finally...we’ll move on!
Many who preach this passage—and I’ve even preached it in the past—focus on how people come to Jesus, come to know Jesus. This is good stuff, without a doubt. Andrew goes and gets his brother, Simon (Peter), and brings him to Jesus. Phillip goes and gets his brother, Nathaniel, and brings him to Jesus. People today come to know Jesus because others whose lives have been impacted by Jesus bring their family and friends to Jesus. When you find something good, you tell others other about it!
However, in my reading, meditation and prayer this week, some other things come to the forefront for me. First, when Jesus meets Simon, he gives him a new name—Peter. Now, Simon is not such a bad name—in the Hebrew, it means something like ‘hearer’ or ‘listener.’ So, Simon was good at listening, perhaps. But, Jesus wanted to give this man a new name, a new identity. This is not unheard of: Abram was renamed Abraham; Jacob became Israel. Now, Simon the Listener has become Peter the Rock. In fact, God wants to give us all a new name. In Rev. 2:17, we see an indication that God wants to give us new names. Of course, for Jewish culture, a name was more than what someone was called; it reflected, shaped or indicated their character. Jesus was changing Peter’s character! Not just a listener anymore; now Simon would become a rock, a foundation, a brick in this new ‘temple’ Jesus was building that would become the Church. And, Jesus comes to bring us new names...new character. We who may have been ‘lazy’ are now called ‘active;’ the ‘loser’ becomes ‘valued;’ who thought themselves ‘just here’ becomes ‘precious’ or ‘beloved.’ It may be that our character is not ‘bad.’ But, we may not be who God wants us to be. One who was ‘talkative’ may need to become ‘Simon;’ and the one who has been a ‘Simon’ may be renamed ‘teacher’ or ‘preacher.’ Jesus comes into our lives and changes our character.
Second, we find that Jesus knows us and accepts us. We may think that we need to be a certain way in order to come to Jesus, to step into the family of God. But, not so. Nathaniel was seen and known before he ever came to Jesus. He even questions Jesus’ origins—“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He comes as a skeptic. Yet, he is already seen and known. While my primary text for study and preaching is the NIV (no need to comment—I’ve heard all the arguments, but I get one Bible to preach from, and it needs to be bilingual...and I’ve yet to find an NRSV/NVI combination....), I have decided to keep The Message at hand as I preach through the Gospel this year. I like the way Peterson renders this passage:
45-46 Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.”
But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.”
47 When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
48 Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
That last verse—“...long before Philip called you here....” Peterson sees something in the grammatical construct in the Greek that indicates that Jesus sees Nate some time before this day, before the events of this day. And, I get the idea that Jesus sees us all from afar...yet knows us in the same way. We don’t have any surprises for Jesus. Nothing shocks Jesus. And, when we come to Jesus, Jesus just accepts us as we are...and gives us a new name to live into.
One more thought. Verse 51 was a verse I almost axed from the reading (yep, I can do that if I want to!) But, after meditating on that verse, I realized that it’s about dreams...and I’m all about dreams and hopes and plans and expectation (sort of comes with the Christian territory....). Here, Jesus references Jacob’s dream in Gen. 28. Jesus indicates that if these disciples follow him, if we follow him, we’re going to see some amazing stuff...and we’ll see dreams come true, dreams become reality. Now, let’s be clear—not just any dreams; rather, God-given dreams will become reality. But, this happens only if we follow Jesus, if we’re walking with Jesus.
So, in my readings this week, this passage indicates that Jesus gives us a new name; he comes into our lives to change our character. Jesus doesn’t demand or expect that we’re anything more than interested in order to come to him—he knows us long before we come to him. And, if we will but come to him...walk with him...we will see amazing things, dreams will become reality. What better way to be walking into 2018, into this new semester of studies, into this new year, into an new job?
These are my gleanings. What are yours?