Today’s reading: John 1:29-51
I invite you to sit in silence for a minute in unprogrammed Quaker worship or contemplative prayer. Such prayer is less about talking to God and more about listening. Sit comfortably and let your mind settle, opening up to the possibility of hearing the “small still voice of God.”
The Gospel of John is the latest written Gospel, dated around 70-130 C.E., and stands out in several ways. Unlike the earlier gospels it has a stronger focus on Christ as Deity, constantly performing miracles and predicting the future. (Contrast this with the humility of Mark’s Jesus in Mark 10:18).
The first 300 years of Christians also contemplated the same questions and had a wide spectrum of beliefs about the exact nature of Jesus’ divinity, yet stayed in community with each other. Humility requires that even as we refuse to adhere to doctrines simply because they ‘won’ in a 2,000-year politicized battle of ideas, we also refuse to believe that we have all the answers.
What then can we take from the passage of John 1:29-51, keeping in mind that it is the writing of one person who scholars would agree most likely never met Jesus as a living human being, wrote to serve a particular purpose in shaping the direction of Christianity and to respond to critics, yet also was a person that followed Jesus? We can see into the heart of truth through the lens of the writer called John, seeing darkly but yet with a purpose and calling.
We can see that over 100 years later, Jesus is still remembered as a man set apart in a unique way. He was a man that John the Baptist waited for his whole life and pointed to when he met Jesus, choosing humility over the adulation and power that he could so easily have kept for himself. John-the-writer associated Jesus with a dove, angels, and the Holy Spirit descending on him. Without need for contrast with other faiths or holy figures, it is enough to say that there was something deeply special about Jesus, showing his sacredness and divinity.
In the calling of disciples, Jesus does not appear to focus on “right beliefs.” Instead, Jesus constantly invited the people he saw to join him. Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael were not asked to accede to a set of doctrinal statements. None but Nathanael spoke any beliefs before they were called. There is no mention of heaven or hell. There is no mention of redemption or sacrifice on the part of God – but there is an implication of the immense sacrifice of people wishing to walk with Jesus. There is no altar call, yet all personal belongings, security, ritual, and comfort are left behind. Jobs, family, and property are all abandoned as these people trod the roads with Jesus for the next three years, walking humbly with their God.
In our own deconstructions and reconstructions of faith, these beginning days of Jesus’ ministry seem to say much about what to leave behind and what to carry with us.
Nathanael in all his arrogance asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and is quickly humbled by Jesus’s response. For many Asian-American Christians our personal identity, racial identity, and faith identity are all intertwined through the history of the fundamentalist or mono-ethnic churches in which we grew up. Many of us know good people through those traditions who live their faith daily yet also hold beliefs or take actions that disturb us. For example, my Pentecostal pastor/fisherman/diver uncle literally gives the shirts off his back to clothe people and bandages street dogs (my mother frequently sends replacements to Sri Lanka for this reason), and I deeply admire him. Yet he would never agree to the universalist acceptance or affirmation of members of the queer community that are central to my belief in a loving God. It takes courage and discernment to help us deconstruct our old faiths and reconstruct a faith that we feel is even closer to the unconditional love of God. It takes humility to look past judgments that would be so easy, to live in community amidst diversity and a wide range of beliefs while still proclaiming with passion and purpose like John.
Can you still take what is good and right and true from your faith past? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Created by: Surani Joshua
About the author: Surani Joshua lives near Phoenix, Arizona, is a PhD student in math education, and a member of Tempe Meeting (Religious Society of Friends/Quakers). Her parents are both from Sri Lanka with Anglican and Pentecostal backgrounds. She is excited this devotional is happening!
Image by: Sheri Park
About the artist: Sheri Park is an interdisciplinary visual artist, with a focus on video & performance. She completed her undergraduate degree from Union College in 2013, and her Certificate in Theology and Art from Fuller Seminary in 2015. When she’s not making art or at her graphic design job, she enjoys making breakfast, reading, and watching ducks by the lake with her husband in Fremont, California.
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About the image:
14.5″ x 22.4″
acrylic on inkjet print
Everything about this was beautiful and thought-provoking–thanks so much, Surani and Sheri!
I’ve been reflecting on a similar question specifically related to dating/relationships/marriage in light of Valentine’s Day, hah. It is easy, when deconstructing, to discard everything. It is harder to seek the good worth keeping amid what hurt us.