The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me."
January 15, 2021, Words By: Pat Thompson, Image By: Unknown
I watched a movie the other night called “The Orator.” Set on the island of Samoa, in the present day, the film showcases Samoan traditions and values and lifts up universal themes of love, courage and resilience. The protagonist, Saili, is a simple villager, small in stature. He spends much of his time looking for the strength to defend his land and family, which are threatened by powerful external adversaries.
But he also struggles internally, plagued by his own disappointing life, lowly standing in society, self doubt and fear. He literally hides in the trees when his wife’s family comes to his home. His predicament leads him in search of transformation, so he visits the village “high talking chief,” the Tagaloa (tagaloa means the creator) to ask for a title that would give him status in the village and the right to speak for and represent himself and his family.
Tagaloa essentially tells him that in order to be installed as a high talking chief he must be willing to show his whole self. “Are you willing to bare yourself in front of all of the villages? When you let people see that you are both strong and vulnerable, people know that you can be trusted. The chief bares his chest while giving a speech so the people can see his heart and know that he tells the truth. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to show yourself?”
At first, he walked away sad and dejected because he knew he was not ready to be laid bare in this way. Eventually, Saili, whose name means “to search,” returned to Tagaloa when things got really tough. And this time, Tagaloa “saw him.”
Saili became vulnerable, showing his true self, and that changed everything. As a result, Saili experienced an internal and external transformation that positively affected him, his family and his community.
The transformative power of “being seen” is a prominent theme throughout time and in the Scriptures. And we find it in our Gospel reading for today in the meeting between Jesus and Nathanael.
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.”
I’ve read this story so many times and I’ve always had a tendency to be sidetracked by Nathaniel’s snarky comment when he first learns about Jesus,
“Nazareth! Can anything good come there?” Maybe I just get stuck there because people often ask that question about my neighborhood on outskirts of Seattle. “White Center? Can anything good come from there?”
You’d think Nathanael’s attitude would shut things down. But his friend has just been “seen” by Jesus himself, and it’s hard to tell if he even notices the snark. Instead of responding in anger, Philip responds with an invitation to “come and see!”
“But Philip says, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
What was it that the Jesus saw in Nathanael? How did he see it? Could others see it too? Like Saili hiding in the taro leaves, was Nathanael hiding under the fig tree? Even Nathanael seemed to be shocked by the affirmation. I might be reading into it, but it feels like his voice loses it’s edge a bit. Even he is left with a question.
Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get 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!”
It can be hard to hear affirmation, especially from God. We tend to react a lot like Nathanael, wondering if God would still think that if we were laid bare, if God truly “saw” us. But that’s the beauty of God. Our Creator does see us, better than we can see ourselves—and he is pleased.
Oh the relief of being wholly seen! And the transformation that takes place when we’re able to hear God’s words of blessing. For it was in the act of being seen and affirmed that Nathanael was freed up to see the truth about who Jesus truly was … not the other way around!
I wonder, what are the truths that we don’t see because we haven’t understood that Jesus has already seen, is seeing now and will always see who we really are … in all our vulnerability? I pray that as we come out of hiding, we find that in hearing what God sees in us, our own sight becomes more clear as we look at others.