A BIG SURPRISE
by Hugh Farquhar
The Gospel Reading in the Lectionary this week is John 1:43-51. When I turned my attention to the Reading and considered it in my way, it seemed as though one sentence, spoken by Nathaniel, was printed in bold: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
When Philip excitedly told Nathaniel that he had found the promised Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth, this was Nathaniel’s response.
What led Nathaniel to be so biased against Nazareth? One needs to speculate, of course, but I think we can do it quite accurately.
Nazareth was an insignificant hamlet – a tiny dot on the Palestinian map. It wasn’t a cosmopolitan city like Jerusalem or a bustling business centre like Jericho or an architectural gem like Sepphoris.
Now, that’s a bias we know: being unfavourably inclined towards small places. People often tend to dismiss them as “in the middle of nowhere” or as “hick towns,” and they don’t expect anything special to come out of them.
Also, Nazareth had never been associated with any significant event in the history of Israel. In that culture, places achieved prestige by figuring prominently in the nation’s past. Nazareth isn’t even mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. Nothing of national importance ever happened there and no one expected it to.
Further, Nathaniel was a native of the neighbouring village of Cana, and we know how often in rural districts neighbouring villages look down on one another. They develop an arch-rivalry as well as sarcastic ways of putting each other down.
There is a lot of human nature in Nathaniel’s remark. Nazareth is not the only place about which something like that has been said. But Nazareth is the classic instance because it is the place in which cynical negations and skeptical questions were forever transcended. When Nathaniel took the time to go and see for himself, as Philip invited him to do, he discovered how misguided his bias had been.
There is a principle here worth noting. Being biased can rob us of life-enriching experiences. Our lives can be deeply blessed by circumstances toward which we are unfavourably inclined and out of which we expect nothing of worth to emerge.
Sometimes we just don’t give them a chance. We make up our minds before the evidence is all in. “Come and see,” Philip said to Nathaniel. That is, “grasp the opportunity of getting acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth. You may be in for a big surprise!” A few verses later we find Nathaniel saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.”
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Yes. It can and it did! The best that the world has ever seen or known was a Nazarene. The eternal truth is that good can come to us out of places and times when we least expect it.
Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United church, Riverview, NB. He seeks to build bridges between the written Word and the living Word for our time..