Summary: We all carry skepticism but Jesus transforms it for the glory of God
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of 40 that call the season of Lent. While the Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, it does talk of the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes. This was a common place Middle Eastern practice in which garments were ripped because they were representative of one’s personality and ashes symbolized one’s grieving as if someone had passed away. The practice is found in scripture in several places like: 2 Samuel 13:19 (Tamar); Esther 4:1 (Mordeci); Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3 (For the sins of the nation); and Matthew 11:21 (where Jesus mentions it as an appropriate response to becoming aware of and then repenting of one’s sin). Throughout the ages, those who claim to be Christian have used this time before Easter to go deeper in their faith and wrestle with what it means to be a sinner in need of grace.
I can’t help but think about tonight’s scripture of the story of Jesus’ calling his first disciples and the faith they must have had to say “yes” to Jesus. I was drawn to how quickly it seemed the “would be” disciples made their decisions to follow Jesus. I was envious of their seeming lack of doubt. Jesus said “come,” and they came. They tossed off the worries of world and followed Jesus; it’s that simple, right? No, and of course not, are the authentic answers. I believe Nathaniel’s journey to Christ represents the norm for many of us. How about you?
The background to the story is that Jesus had just been praised by John the Baptist in such a way that two of John’s disciples have decided to follow Jesus instead. And then they told two friends (Andrews brother Simon/Peter & a neighbor Phillip). And then it’s Phillip who brings Nathanael.
It’s almost comical to think of the crew Jesus assembled – You have fishermen who, while hardworking, are not known for their religious or their public speaking abilities. You have the impetuous hot headed Peter, his little brother Andrew – the consummate 2nd in command, and Phillip – the simple minded people pleaser who could evangelize better than anyone. And then we have this middle class, Nathanael.
So it makes perfect sense that unlike the others, who just said, okay that Nathanael would begin as a skeptic. He was from a different world. He had money, was probably better educated and more worldly. Hence, his statement about Nazareth being the arm pit of the community. You can almost see the facial expression and the eye roll as he makes the statement, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It’s a classic bit of arrogance mixed with dismissiveness.
Personally, I have been Nathanael in my life on several occasions. I’ve done it in my personal, professional and ministry life. In fact, I am thinking of starting a new anonymous recovery group called, Skeptics anonymous. Hello, I’m Bob a skeptic and I’m here tonight because I have been a skeptic for some time.
I’ll never forget my thoughts from before I became a Christian. I was sure all Christians were hypocrites. They all just pretended to be good and underneath the surface, they were worse than other people because at least the rest of the world just let it hang out there. It wasn’t until I began hanging out with the Christian tribe that I found out that yes they had problems but they weren’t content with letting themselves stay in the problem. The perception that they were judging me for living my life was incorrect. They were judging theirs by how far they had come through living out their faith.
And then there was the time when I owned my business, I had a partner in New York who I was convinced was trying to make sure he had total control of the distribution of a certain product. You know how those New Yorker’s are. Have you seen that show the apprentice? He was going to try and squeeze me out. However, I know that is the farthest thing from the truth. In reality, he ended up being an amazing mentor and then giving me the sole distribution on a handshake promise.
Then there was a time within the last few years, I was convinced small churches were unhealthy spiritually. However, I was shown health of a church has less to do with size and more to do with their willingness to extend themselves into the work for which they have been called. All of the outposts for Jesus have a mission that they are uniquely called to live out in the world.
Dismissiveness is deadly to any relationship. In every one of my life situations, I am sure I have rolled my eyes or thought, “well, that’s stupid or ridiculous.” It wasn’t until God showed me that I realized how judging anyone or anything is actually a reflection on me and my faith.