Updated: Jan 30, 2021
While spending three years on “The Mountain,” at Sewanee, Tennessee, I became familiar with their campaign to entice future seminarians to go there. It is called the “Come and See Visitation Weekend.” It is a big event for the School of Theology there; and this year’s event will take place between February 13 and 15.
If you ever get a chance to visit Sewanee, you will “see” how picturesque it is. It is a small village that is an extension of the University of the South, which (according to the Wikipedia article about the school) “consists of 13,000 acres of scenic mountain property atop the Cumberland Plateau.”
It truly is scenic; and the promotion of “Come and See” means the idyllic setting was enticing – one hard to see and not want to come back to. I call it a “throw back” university setting, one that instantly reminded me of a the old television show “Dobbie Gillis.” That show became, in my childish mind’s eye, how college campuses were supposed to look … where stone buildings all had ivy growing up their side walls … the dorms, the Greek houses and the school buildings. Stately oak trees growing around manicured courtyards with designed sidewalks, and statues and plaques here and there. It is a picture perfect photogenic place.
In a way, Sewanee seemed much like Disneyland to me … a perfect place to vacation for a few days, up to a week; but way too expensive to live there year round.
I am reminded of this from my past because of the reading from John today, where Phillip told Nathanael, “Come and see.” He said this to Nathanael because Phillip told him he had found the one, “about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael had asked in response, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
“Come and see,” was then an offer to see for yourself. It says, “Don’t let me be the one who answers that question. Let the proof be from your own mind, through your own eyes.”
Or so it seems.
Remembering that we are now at the second Sunday after the Epiphany, where we should be expecting an “ah ha moment” from all the readings, this Sunday is no exception; and it is not going to disappoint you.
To bring you to this moment of sudden revelation, let’s first go to the reading from 1 Samuel, where Samuel is a boy, believed to be around 12 to 13 years of age. Samuel had been dedicated to the temple in Shiloh by his parents and placed under the guidance of Eli, the last of the judges of the Israelites, and also a priestly prophet caring for the temple.
If you recall not long ago, one of the optional readings was of Jesus being twelve years old and left in the temple, where he was eager to learn from the elders, the rabbis, the teachers. So Samuel is, in a way, similar to Jesus in this dedication to learning what his teacher had to offer.
We are told up front, “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” When we read those words, we are not misled to think people did not talk about the Torah [“words of the LORD”] and only a few people had eyesight [“visions were not widespread”]. We clearly understand that we are being told the existing conditions surrounding the Israelites, as far as the number of true holy people then, who were guiding them, as would prophets and judges. They were few and far between.
Eh? What did you say?
We are told, “the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli.” That means Samuel was Eli’s servant, with Eli still the one officially God’s “go-to guy.”
We learn that Eli’s eyesight was growing dim, which is a physical condition of old age; but when we read, “the lamp of god had not yet gone out.” This means Eli still was able to “See” divine visions, only those had slowed down considerably over some number of years.
We are also told that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD.” This means Samuel had not yet learned to distinguish an auditory hallucination … which is what a disbeliever would say a prophet hears, when no one else can hear anything out of the ordinary … from a real – “physical” – sound. Sound is, after all, invisible, like sight, but both are measured by how many people similarly register the physical reception of vibratory impulses.
If you recall last week’s Gospel, when Jesus was baptized by John the baptizer, one of those auditory hallucinations was heard by some, but not all, when God said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Today, Samuel is hearing the voice of God while he is trying to go to sleep, but he keeps thinking it is Eli calling him.
Samuel, we learn, is obedient, as each time he hears his name called he says, “Here I am!” The exclamation point lets us know his answer was emphatic, rather than weary. Jesus, we learned after his retrieval from the temple by Joseph and Mary, was “obedient to his parents,” And, we are told “he increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor,” due to this obedience. This is more that reflects a parallel between young Samuel and young Jesus.
It says, in essence, “If you want to hear the word of the LORD and you want to receive visions sent by God, then listen for when your name is called, respond eagerly, “Here I am!” and then obediently do what you are told.”
As such, Samuel would follow Eli as the prophet of Israel. Others, such as Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and so on, would follow Samuel. Jesus would then follow in that line of holy men of Israel.
When you can see that set up, you can then begin to go “ah ha,” when you read how Jesus “found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
Sure, Phillip would walk in the shadow of a great prophet of Israel, just as Samuel physically followed Eli around the temple of Shiloh and Jesus physically followed the path taken by Joseph and Mary; but the importance is not that Philip walked behind Jesus. The importance is Philip would become just like Jesus, because of his hearing the call of his name, of him responding eagerly, and him obediently learning how to stop being a disciple and receive the Holy Spirit, becoming the next line of prophets after Jesus.
If the checkout clerk yells, “Next!” will you hesitate? Or will you follow after the person who just got checked out? Will you yell back, “Here I am!”?
Philip would not go find Nathanael and tell him the Messiah had come, if he had only heard the physical voice of a man say, “Follow me.” Philip had been one of those who heard God’s voice say, “Jesus is my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Having heard that he would go find Nathanael and tell him who he was joining, as a servant to a master.
Thus Nathanael, as a student of the laws of Moses and the prophets, posed the question, “Can anything like the Messiah come out of Nazareth, without being written to come out of there?” That was like him asking, “Philip, are you sure this is the one?”
When Philip said, “Come and see,” the ultimate reason for those words was, “Our obedience will show us divine visions.” In the long run it meant, “Our time to be prophets of the LORD has come. We have been chosen to follow this path.”
Now, let’s look at the conversation Jesus had with Nathanael, when Nathanael asked Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus replied, “I saw you under the fig tree.”
Think about that statement for a moment and let your mind’s eye picture that scene. Do you see Nathanael in a sitting position, as if he were seeking shade from the sun? Or, do you see someone standing under a fig tree reaching up, picking ripe fruit?
Whichever you see in your mind, you are “seeing” in a physical sense, and not in a divinely visual way. As American Christians, long separated from any Jewish – Israelite understanding of fig trees, we simply do not understand the symbolism present in that statement by Jesus.
The symbolism is why Nathanael would exclaim, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” You do not go that overboard, reacting with exclamations of wonder simply because someone saw you physically under a fig tree.
The fig tree represents the future of the religion of the One God – YAHWEH – the LORD – the Father of Jesus, the Messiah. A fig tree that bears fruit is like Eli, Samuel, Jesus and Paul, those who continued the line of holiness, as dedicated priests of God. Thus, Jesus said to Nathanael (in essence), “I knew you were from Jeremiah’s basket of good figs – one who has obediently studied the laws of Moses and the writings of the prophets – and God has allowed me to see you in that way.”
This means, when Jesus next said to Nathanael, “You will see greater things than me having this vision of you,” the meaning was Nathanael would have many such visions from God in his future. Jesus, then, just prophesied that Nathanael would become an Apostle, just like Philip, as both would “follow Jesus” in that way.
This brings us to the warning of Paul, which appear to focus on a need for those like Philip, Nathanael, young Samuel, and young Jesus … all who would become prophets of the LORD … that you must be faithful to the LORD in order to divinely hear the word and see. You must be married to Jesus, becoming one united with the Holy Spirit, becoming as Jesus, such that your physical body is filled with that divine link to God.
Paul wrote, “Your bodies are members of Christ,” which means anyone who seeks to “Follow Jesus,” who will “Come” to be holy and “See” visions of the LORD, you become the physical representation of Christ – you become the reincarnation of Jesus in the flesh. You cannot then just begin some adulterous love affair with sin, while married to Christ. You cannot maintain an engagement with Christ, if your heart still longs for pleasures of the flesh.
Fornication is not simply some physical act with someone you are not married to, as simply the sin of adultery, or as a sin that can be forgiven through repentance. The Epiphany is the realization that you are only Baptized by the Holy Spirit once, so you will never cheat on your lover, when your lover is the LORD.
Paul wrote, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and you are not your own.” This means, like Samuel, “you lie down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God is.” Whenever you hear your name called, you get up and excitedly say, “Here I am!”
You have a commitment to say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
You can no longer let your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or fingers search out physical pleasures that lurk in the external world, once you have been united with the Holy Spirit.
“The two shall be one flesh,” … the flesh that is your body has become married to Christ.
Two become one flesh.
Paul wrote, “Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.” This means you keep yourself from being married to Christ by continuing to sin, keeping your body from ever knowing the ultimate pleasure of the Holy Spirit.
“For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body,” Paul continued. That says the dowry you pay for being married to Christ is submission to a higher calling, where the glory of the LORD is upon your flesh and bones, due to that obedience to God.
In this season of Epiphany, you have to have your blind eyes opened so you can truly “See.” You have to have your deaf ears tuned to the inner voice, where the word of the LORD is always spoken.
You have to come to the ultimate realization that the LORD has searched you out and known you; He is acquainted with all your ways. Still, He calls your name to come, serve Him, saying, "Follow" in the path of His Son.
Are you sitting under a shade tree, avoiding the heat of commitment and responsibility?
Are you feeding off the fruit of a good fig tree, storing that only for yourself and doing nothing to share it with others?
Or, are you a good fig that is waiting for ripening, so you can be picked to serve the LORD?
The message has not changed. It is still the same song, just a different verse. It is up to you to commit yourself to God when he says, “Follow me. Come and see.”
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