In year B of the RCL, the gospel readings are taken from Mark, but because Mark is rather short, from time to time, the Gospel of John is also used. Often, the use of John extends over several weeks, as in the reading of much of John 6, or the Lenten and Easter gospels. Other times, we seem to jump back and forth, with no apparent logic, nor any warning.
We’ve already read portions of John 1(1:6-8, 19-28 on the Third Sunday of Advent; John 1:1-14 on Christmas Day); but it’s unfortunate that we’ve not had the opportunity to read the whole of chapter 1 because v. 19-42 provide the first scenes in a drama that help to explain what is going on in the text for next Sunday. John 1:29-42 is the gospel reading for the Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year A; go figure (Here’s my sermon from last year on that text).
The drama begins with questions about who John the Baptizer is. He denies he is the Messiah, Elias, or one of the prophets. The next day, he and two disciples encounter Jesus. He points to Jesus, and says to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” They follow Jesus, and when he asks them what they want, they reply, “Where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “Come and see.” And they stayed with him that day. One of those disciples is Andrew, who goes to tell his brother Simon that they have found the Messiah. Simon comes and sees.
Then comes the reading for this week. Jesus encounters Philip and says, “Follow me.” Like Andrew, Philip goes to find someone else; this time it’s Nathaniel, who gives a cheeky response. But Philip, too, says, “Come and see.”
One of the recurrent images in these verses is “to see.” While different Greek words are used from time to time, and Jesus’ “come and see” is phrased differently from Philip’s, the same word is used for John’s “Behold” and Philip’s “see.” In our culture, seeing is believing, except when we don’t believe our eyes. We are so attuned to special effects, computer graphics, and the like, that I suspect over time the idea that “seeing is believing” will lose its appeal. And indeed, in the gospel, it’s not just about “seeing.” It’s about seeing in a particular way, often guided or informed by faith, or by God’s miraculous power.
In Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel, this seeing is also knowing. Jesus identifies Nathaniel, saying something crucial about who he is. Nathaniel asks Jesus how he knew him, and Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree.” When Nathaniel comes to know Jesus, naming him as the Son of God, Jesus replies, “You will see greater things than these.”
Seeing, knowing, believing. These three are all wrapped up together in John’s gospel, offering a complex sequence of how one comes to true faith in the one who is Jesus Christ. But it all begins with, “Come and see.” And our eyes are opened when we “stay” with Jesus as Andrew and the other disciple did.