Philip found Nathaniel and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite.There is no duplicity in him.” Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We Indians have fought racism. We have fought it in the developed countries, in work places, universities and cities. We have also lost precious lives to this sickening malice of humanity. We have held dharnas and questioned this discrimination. Effectively all these dharnas portrayed us as people with unparalleled virtues who do not have a bone that discriminates. Something spectacular is always needed to shatter some well nurtured myths. In a shocking incident in Bangalore/Bengaluru, a 21 year Old Tanzanian Woman was attacked by 200-300 people where she was pulled out of her car, beaten and stripped and her car was torched. The reason was in an unrelated event, a Sudanese driver had a case of hit and run with a local woman and since the Sudanese man was elusive, the next most intelligent option is to hunt and find somebody similar and punish them. Wow. And we have tried to show it as a mob justice. Since then many African students have come out and expressed their horrifying experiences of racism that they encounter in the cities of India, just because of their skin colour. They have problems of finding accommodation, are subject to strange stares, abuses and taunts like “drug dealers and pimps.”But there have been many ‘patriotic Indians’ who have denied the accusation that we are racists. The fact of the matter is, we are racists and to accept it is the beginning of our healing process. Richard Rohr, taking clue from Carl Jung has explored the idea of Shadow Self where we like to project an idealized version of ourselves with all virtues and positive image. But we have our shadow selves where we like to hide the dark sides of ourselves which are part of us and keeps manifesting in our interactions no matter how much we try to hide it. Being racists is part of our collective conscience which we need to be aware and deal with.
In today’s passage we see Philip with a lot of excitement introducing the Messiah to his friend Nathaniel. But Nathaniel gives one of the most cynical replies recorded in the Bible where he says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Wow. When we learn about Nazareth, it was an obscure town, populated mostly with manual laborers who didn’t have money, status, or power. So the assumption that a people from certain places because of their language, ethnicity, religion and caste are simply of no value, is only getting intensified. We have strong prejudices against people from Bihar and U.P. In my experience in the Northeast India, exposed me to the resentment people of Nagaland and Manipur have towards the people of so called “Mainland India” who discriminate against them in various walks of life. So some or the other way, we have a “Nathaniel Factor” in us that refuses to be hidden. The “all knowing” Jesus is aware of the prejudice that Nathaniel has harbored against him. But Jesus changes the equation in the encounter. In vs 47 we see Jesus saying “Here is a true Israelite, there is no duplicity in him.” This statement of Jesus opens up Nathaniel. The gaze of Jesus that penetrates through the shadow self of ours, reveals what we can truly become. Sometimes we are so filled with frustrations, complexes and hatred towards ourselves that we look out for the perceived inferior to find a scapegoat and hate her/him. But Jesus sees us. He knows who we are and he knows what we can become. Jesus’ opinion forms us. It reveals our shadow selves. He sees what our self is. That is the starting point. My Lord knows who I am. He loves me. That is the point of “Formation”.
Before the passage ends Jesus gives Nathaniel a promise. “You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen,[e] I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (vs 50b, 51). Did he see anything as promised? The Gospel of John is known for using words like a painter. Now we come to Chapter 2 where we have the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus and his disciples were invited to the feast. And as the story goes, the wine runs dry. We know the crux of the miracle is that Jesus tells the workers to fill water in the 6 Jars used for ceremonial cleansing. They filled it to the brim. It was taken to the steward who certifies the great quality of the wine. The Water was turned into wine. So what’s the story? Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. Disciples believed him. Nathaniel was a disciple. Still not clear? Now if you see the question still lingers on “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The answer is the miracle at the Wedding of Cana. Certainly a memorable event has occurred. But still what does it have to do with Nathaniel? “ Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons,[a] and two others of his disciples.” (John 21:2) Boom. Nathaniel was from Cana. A person from a place of no good did a miracle in his own backyard in Cana. It is like the time when I was an expert at criticizing Sachin Tendulkar. I used to say “He has lost his touch. He cannot bat. He is past his prime.” And the next match he comes with a century. Baam. Slap in the face. As it was said “Tendulkar does not answer with his mouth. He lets the bat do the talking”. The miracle at Cana was a point of transformation for Nathaniel. Jesus made tasteless water to turn it into the most wonderful wine. Jesus who provides taste to our lives. A racist Nathaniel is transformed to a believing and life giving Nathaniel. With Jesus in our lives our bland existence with hidden prejudices and hatred is transformed to a life giving ministry and vocation for life.
Now when the transformation happens, we stop at that. But our faith is like an obscure language. It needs translation. What happened to Nathaniel? Do you know what happened to Peter? It is said he was crucified upside down. What happened to Thomas. It is said he came to India and was martyred at Mylapore. Is this in the Bible? No. But Church tradition preserves their memory and contributions. So what happened to Nathaniel? It is said after encountering the resurrected Christ, he set to North India with a scroll of Gospel of Matthew. He opened up the gospel proceedings in North India though this is not popularly known. It is said, Nathaniel reached out to people. He travelled to many places as a witness of the Gospel. He was persecuted and hunted down. And finally it is said he was crucified upside down in Albania. A man who was full of prejudice and bigotry goes from Formation-Transformation-Translation. The Great Lent is a time to deal with our Shadow selves. The hatred, the prejudices that we have is making us turn into beasts. We are connecting ourselves to the Grand Story of Salvation where through Jesus Christ, God calls us his beloved Daughter/Son. He forms us in his love and we get transformed in our encounter with him. Our transformation through the Holy Spirit enables us to translate our faith from abstract belief to concrete works.
As a priest, I have talked enough on formation and transformation. But I always struggle with the translation part. One day when I was just checking FB, I saw a status update by my friend Rev Noble Abraham who is the Director of Wardha Mission run by the Jerusalem Mar Thoma Yuvajan Sakhyam, New Delhi. Rev Noble is a dear friend and a fellow parishioner in Pune and a co-travelling brother in faith. Let me verbatim paste his status
“I was on a casual talk along with Johny Uncle, Prabhakar and Valmik (all part of wardha Mission). That’s when the topic of the plight of people staying on the pavements of Sevagram hospital came into the focus. Our words matched and found meaning when we all vouched why not we initiate at least one time meal for the needy. We left saying let’s pray over it.
Then after days I watched an interview of Azhar Maqsusi. He had initiated a feeding program in Hyderabad and is successfully feeding more that 150 people for that past 1382 days and still counting. And to everyone’s surprise including mine, my wife and me were invited to hyderabad early this month to lead a children’s camp. To cut it short, I met Azhar bhai myself and also participated in his work to know and understand how he worked out this initiative. Also, this reminded me of my Kottayam Seminary days when we used to assist the Navjeevan staff to distribute food at Kottayam Medical College. And here we are on the 26th day of January 2016 joining hands with many such as Azhar bhai, P U Thomas sir of Navjeevan and many whom we don’t know. But all I know is one that in the Gospel of Mathew 25:35a it says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food….” I praise God that he choose Wardha Jmys Mission for this movement. Do pray for us.”
Jerusalem Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam (JMYS) Mission, Wardha has initiated a feeding program called Arpandhara that undertakes to feed more than 100 people from the Sevagram Hospital.
This example is just one of the examples of translating our faith. We need to make a conscious decision to combat the shadow selves in our community and us and strive to be translating our faith into action to be co-participants in the Kingdom of God.
*If you are wondering, what is ‘Aah Se Aaha Tak’ well it is a tag line of MOOV Pain Relief which shows transformation from being in pain to being relieved, alive and kicking
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church,
Kolar Road, Bhopal