Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

John 1
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe[a] because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[b] you[c] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[d] the Son of Man.”

To be honest, I didn’t know there were so many ways to lie.

While conducting extensive research for this sermon (visiting Wikipedia), I learned that there are, in fact, at least thirty different types of lies. Taken in alphabetical order, they range from the Bad Faith Lie (Jean-Paul Sartre called this ‘lying to yourself’) all the way to the famous White Lie (“Really, I love your new shoes and I totally understand why you need one more pair of shoes that essentially looks like every other pair you own”).

In between, the lies range from fanciful lies to garden variety lies, and so it seems unfair to bring up such an interesting topic and not give you a few other examples:

The Butler Lie: Related to the Polite Lie (“We’re really busy this weekend”), the Butler Lie means describing something by phone or text that isn’t true yet (“Okay, I gotta go now, my lunch is here.”)

The lie called Puffery: If you have ever wondered how every restaurant in New York could have “the world’s best coffee” then you already know about puffery.

Or the Jocose Lie: If you have heard the same story about catching the same fish several times and you notice that the day gets longer and the fish gets bigger, you have experiences the Jocose Lie. The same goes for your lengthy walk to school: the fun of this lie is knowing it’s not completely true.

So why are we talking about lying? Well, with at least thirty different types of lies to choose from, there is obviously a lot of lying going on. I think most of us can describe moments that we have clearly been lied to, and if we’re completely candid, we can name the times we have told a fib or two ourselves.

Even the Bible has some famous examples to share, with Abraham lying to say is wife is actually his sister, Sarah lying when she insists she didn’t laugh at the suggestion she would have a child in old age, and the sons of Jacob taking that beautiful coat and dipping it in a little animal blood and saying “Uh-oh, I think something happened to Joseph.”

And then there is the passage Faith read this morning.

Now, before we discuss the possibility that Jesus might tell a lie, I am fully aware of the properties of lightning, that it doesn’t always travel in a straight line, and that lightning traveling through the front door, across the narthex, up the ramp, through the back doors, up the aisle and into the pulpit is not inconceivable.

So here goes: The story begins simply enough. Jesus finds Philip and says “Follow me,” followed by Philip’s invitation to Nathanael, followed by Nathanael’s famous question “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It appears that Nathanael will need some extra convincing, so the heart of the story begins:

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (RSV)

Jesus counters with, ‘That’s it? Because I said I saw you under a fig tree you believed? Wait until you see the rest.’ In a Gospel filled with signs, this is only the first.

So you’re not seeing the lightning bolt, and perhaps you’re not seeing the lie either. Maybe that’s because I didn’t tell you about Lie #23, which goes by the name Dissembling.

Essentially the same as misleading, dissembling involves saying something that is true to cover something else that may or may not be true. If you ask me if I like your new hat and I tell you that yellow is one of my favourite colours, I’ve been doing a little dissembling. I answered with a truthful statement, I just didn’t answer your question. But I’m sure it’s a nice hat.

Likewise, Nathanael (in whom there is no guile) asks “how do you know me?” and Jesus says “I saw you under the fig tree.” This is classic dissembling. The real answer to the question “how do you know me” might be more accurately answered with Jesus saying “Because I read your heart.”

So why not just say it? Why describe the fig tree when it seems perfectly obvious that he knows that Nathanael has no guile precisely because Jesus can read hearts? Why the dissembling? This, then, might be the moment to misquote Col. Jessep and say “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!”

In this case, at the beginning of the Gospel, maybe it’s too soon for Jesus to reveal that he can read hearts. The reader will soon know, because it will be obvious, and because John will say as much in chapter two: Jesus “knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” (24b, 25)

And Matthew 12: Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will fall.” (25) And Luke 9: Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. (47)

Time and time again we will be reminded that Jesus knew (and knows) what happens within the human heart, but he can’t reveal this knowledge too soon, for fear that he will have no disciples at all. Imagine the job interview where you tell the job applicant that everything will seem great at the beginning, ‘then I’ll suffer, and then I’ll die, then you’ll suffer, and then you’ll die.’ And ‘at every moment I’ll be able to read your mind and read your heart, even when I’m not immediately at hand.’ No, far better to say ‘follow me and I will make you fishers of people.’

And what about us? What would we do with this knowledge? Or how would we react if it were revealed at the beginning?

‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, the son (who can already read your heart), and the Holy Spirit.’

‘We call this meeting to order in the name of Jesus Christ, the head of the church (who can read all of your hearts, even in a meeting)’
“Jesus Christ, cup of blessing, bread of heaven (reader of hearts).’

Maybe it’s just too much to bear, this knowledge that Jesus can read hearts. Maybe we don’t want to be reminded, in the same way that poor Nathanael may have shied away from the job of disciple if he immediately knew how much heart reading was going to happen. You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth.

Remember the time before the Beer Store found new meaning in life, and you would put the wine bottles in the bottom of the blue bin and the Pepsi cans on top? Surely I’m not the only one who worried what the neighbours might think, and assumed that there was such a thing as householder-garbage collector confidentiality?

Jesus capacity to read hearts is only matched by our capacity to obfuscate and conceal. But though it all Jesus continues to call disciples, continues to lead people in his way, and continues to redeem everything he touches. At the beginning of another Gospel Jesus said "Healthy people don't need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners." Even Nathanael, the one without guile.

May God speak to our hearts, so easily read, and so precious in God’s sight. Amen.


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