The Gospel of John for the First Sunday of Lent (John 1:44-52)

Jesus as the Object for which the Human Heart Yearns. – Who can Find Jesus, and to Whom He Reveals Himself.

What is Jesus? He is the veritable, the priceless treasure which every soul ought to seek out, to pursue, and to acquire at all costs. In Him there exists everything that is good, every blessing, every boon; for He is the sumtotal, the head and substance, the essence and pith, of all good things. If we possess Christ we are ipso facto happy and fortunate; if, on the other hand, we are ignorant of Him or if we ignore Him, or if we are destitute of Him, we are ipso facto unhappy and unfortunate, even though we have everything pertaining to the present life that we could desire, such as health, beauty, wealth, luxury, enjoyment, comfort, and glory. All these things just mentioned are goods that are shadowy, transitory, paltry, ephem­eral, and evanescent: whosoever boasts thereof is vain. A soul that has been reconciled with Christ does not even desire the goods of the present life, hav­ing already acquired Christ in its spirit and heart, and being abundantly de­lighted by luxuriating in Him. Nor does it attach any value to such things if it possess them by force of circumstances, as permanent goods, i.e., as last­ing boons or as perpetual blessings, because it well knows that the only true good and the only true blessing is Christ. Accordingly, it uses such things in a thoroughly Christian manner, and disposes of them in accordance with the commandment of Christ.

But who genuinely desire Jesus, this real good, this priceless and most valuable treasure? Who, indeed? Not all men do, of course, but the rever­ential and those who have their intellect and their heart concentrated upon higher things certainly are the ones to do so. Those who reason sanely and soundly concerning their destiny, and those who are persuaded that human life extends beyond the grave, that life is not buried in the grave, that thought and freedom of the will, as belonging peculiarly to man, are not gifts of fortune or of lucky circumstances, but on the contrary, are gifts of Divine Providence, who created him, and who endowed him with them, and who set him at liberty to do as he pleases but made him responsible for all that he does or fails to do, granting him the right of omnicompetence but holding him accountable before the law of justice and of love. Into those who believe that God created all things to serve a good end, that this end is attained and realized in the future life, and that in the present life man ought to prepare himself therefor, there enters consequently the belief or the faith that Jesus is the everlasting good, the head and leader of everlasting life Jived in accordance with the commandments and laws and in fulfillment of the counsel and design of God.

Accordingly, having discovered and recognized in Christ the very object for which their heart has been yearning, they proceed to invite others also to share in their joyful find, crying aloud to the rest of the world, “We have found it, we have found in Christ the good we have been in need of all along – the good which fulfills the yearnings of our heart. Come ye, and see, and learn all ye who doubt, that He indeed is the beloved one of the healthy and sound human heart.” Philip announced the discovery of this good to his friend Nathaniel most enthusiastically and festively, who had been ardently desirous thereof and had been praying that he might be permitted and be deemed to deserve to participate in the enjoyment of Him as a guileless and true Israelite. Nevertheless, it is to be remembered that Christ is also discov­ered or found by those who possess an upright, guileless, unhypocritical, frank, reverential, pure, and holy heart, such as was that of Nathaniel: those who turn their intellect and their heart upwards towards God. The sacred lection of the Gospel of this Sunday we are now expounding contains these two ideas of the genuine good and of the guileless heart which yearns for it.

“The next day Jesus wished to go forth into Galilee; and he findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now, Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” – John 1:43-44

This procedure of Jesus was not purposeless or at random. For as the Savior of man He was proceeding and acting for the purpose of saving him. He sought man and invited him to come to Him. He went forth into the country of Galilee, and met Philip, a fellow townsman of Andrew and of Peter, the two brothers, who had definitively followed Jesus after the death of John the Baptist, whose disciples they had been first. Through him, in­deed, it was that they had become acquainted with Jesus Christ and became His disciples. “Follow me,” the Lord told Philip, and Philip did not hesitate to follow Him. And why not? Could it be said that he was not faring forth to find Christ? Can it be said that he was not seeking the genuine good of his heart? Can it be said that as a logical and rational man he was inclined to admit there was no good in the world that deserved to be given his heart, and that his heart belonged only to God and to the heaven-sent Savior?

If Jesus was seeking to find Philip, it was nonetheless a fact that Philip was also seeking to find Jesus. Both the one and the other were going about with their minds set on a good purpose; accordingly, their meeting each other was by no means a result of mere accident. The Good Shepherd was seeking to find His sheep. But it was nonetheless a fact that the sheep too was longing to find his Shepherd. This only goes to show that each of the two met the other in a strictly providential manner – i.e., of set purpose preconceived to this end – but also in a most affectionate manner and with the heartiest of feelings. Philip recognized the Savior the moment the latter told him, “Follow me,” and instantly complied by doing so, indeed, just as he was requested to do. He had the good sense to believe, and upon the strength of his faith he yielded submission on the spot, and showed obe­dience at once, and became immediately devoted to the object of his obedi­ence. Accordingly, within his heart he experienced the ineffable joy of having found what was supremely good for him, which good he in turn hastened immediately to announce the discovery of to his friend Nathaniel with the object of letting him participate in his joy. This kind act of solici­tude on his part was certainly a real token of true friendship! Hence-

“Philip findeth Nathaniel, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:45

True friendship hides or conceals nothing as between the friends them­selves. Everything is held in common between them. The one friend works and labors and proceeds to action in behalf of the other friend’s happiness because he is his friend. Common feelings of joy and of sorrow bind the two friends together by means of the bond of friendship. Philip, therefore, may be said to have acted as and to have been a true friend in his relationship with Nathaniel. Both of them considered it to be a common good that the Messiah, or Christ, had been found for them. They had indeed been expect­ing and were prepared to await the coming of the Christ. But it was Philip that had discovered the good he had been longing for in Jesus, and upon receiving information of Him he lost no time in announcing to his friend Nathaniel the fact that He had found Him, by telling him: “We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

In this connection it is to be noted that Jesus was supposed to be, but was not, the son of Joseph, who was merely His father by adoption in ac­cordance with law, and not really His father in a physical sense of the word and by virtue of a natural relationship of blood; for Jesus had been begotten of Holy Spirit and of Mary the Virgin as a man, though He had been sub­sisting as God eternal ever since before the beginning of time. “We have found Him,” Philip meant to tell his friend Nathaniel, “who is none other than the Savior who had been previously announced by the prophets as such. So come thou along with me in order that thou too may enjoy Him; for He has come into the world for the benefit of all men, and, accordingly, He invites all men to come to Him that are willing to recognize Him. We have indeed found the good for which we have been yearning, the very de­sideratum of our heart. Accordingly, we can take our repose in the enjoy­ment of Him, since we consider no other good to be superior to Him. Everything else for us becomes trash to be brushed out of our way in order that we may be enabled to enjoy the blessing of only this good as the sole reward of our expectations. So, good and benevolent Nathaniel, my dear friend, become thou too a participant with us in the enjoyment of this su­preme good.”

“And Nathaniel said unto him, Can there any good come out of Nazareth. Philip saith unto him, Come and see.” – John 1:46

Nathaniel was disposed to offer objections to the words of Philip because he was considering what a small and insignificant place Nazareth was, and as likely as not the paltry condition of its inhabitants. He was doubtlessly thus minded to say, in other words, something like the following: “But out of insignificant and paltry Nazareth is it possible that there can result or arise anything that is good, and, above all, this supreme good which thou art announcing to me as having been found there? Good things and great things result from or arise out of good things and great things, and not, on the con­trary, from what is paltry and insignificant. Can it be, then, I wonder, that thou art in error, friend Philip, as respecting thy good belief?” In saying, “Can there any good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel, of course, had ref­erence to Christ, and meant to say, by way of amplification and in explanation of the purport of his words, “so as to allow of the Messiah’s coming out of Nazareth?”

Now, it is patent indeed that Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother at and within the site of the town called Nazareth, but it is never­theless a fact that He was born in the city of Bethlehem, the capital city of David’s kingdom, though again it must be admitted, on the other hand, that He was brought up and reared as a child at Nazareth, on which account, too, He was called a Nazarene. There too He dwelt until, having grown up as a man, he made the seaport city of Capernaum His headquarters and the center of His teaching, whence He issued as from His home and went forth into the towns of Galilee and of Judea and into the cities thereof, wherein He taught and preached. But in offering objections to the words of Philip Nathaniel was merely asking for particulars, or fuller information, which, however, it was not possible for him to obtain otherwise than by joining the fellowship of Jesus, as Philip had done, and being convinced by evidence of the eyes. On this account it was that Philip told him laconically, “Come and see.” The fact was not something that was hidden, but, on the contrary, was something that was patent, i.e., open to the view and observation of every­body. From a distance, he meant, thou mayest have doubts, but, after com­ing and seeing close at hand, thou wilt be convinced that the fact of the matter is such as I have stated it to be. But, inasmuch as thine objections cannot be countered and overthrown and successfully dealt with otherwise than by personal observation of your own, in order to be persuaded of the truth of what I have told you, “come and see” for yourself.

“Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” – John 1:47

Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to Him in obedient response, and willing submission, to the words of Philip, by whom he had really been persuaded so as to see the reasonableness of Philip’s advice that he ought to come and see for himself. But, on the other hand, Jesus directly and immediately pro­nounced His opinion concerning the character of Nathaniel because He per­ceived in him the guilelessness and unfeigningness and ingenuousness of his heart, which beget logical and rational belief. “Behold,” said the Lord, “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” The same thought might have been expressed otherwise by saying: “Behold a man who admits reason to be right and accepts the correctness of logic because he is sincere, modest, guileless, and not pharisaical.”

Nathaniel was not at once convinced by the words of Philip his friend because he had no esteem for Nazareth, nor did he believe it possible that any good could come out of or arise from Nazareth; the reason for his offer­ing objections as he did was simply that he was desirous of obtaining further information because he was inclined to think that Philip might perhaps have been deceived or mistaken. But this objection was not an unreasonable one, either, and it came from a guileless heart, too; hence it was that he readily complied with Philip’s advice and came to Jesus in order to see for himself and be convinced, and believe, and have faith. The God-man, on the other hand, discerned the ingenuousness and the logicality and reasonableness of Nathaniel’s heart, and this it was which He acknowledgingly enounced in the words “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!”

It is such guileless and ingenuous persons that come to study and recog­nize Jesus and remain in Him faithful to the end. O my soul, become thou guileless like Nathaniel, and, like him, logical and reasonable, too, and sin­cere in every respect and in all matters whatsoever, in order that thou may come to Jesus and remain in Him forever! A soul that is guileless is also able to think logically and to decide upon reasonable action, and with reason as its guide it seeks and finds what is good for it. Thus, it becomes evident why Nathaniel, on his part, as a logical and reasonable person answered in reply to the words of Jesus logically and reasonably, by saying:

“Nathaniel saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?” – John 1:48

Of course knowledge of the inmost heart of a man is by no manner of means human knowledge, for no man can possibly see or discern what is in the heart of another man, except by inference from what he has said over a sufficient length of time, i.e., by relying upon the other man’s words after hearing him speak for a sufficient length of time to enable him to detect the falsity or sincerity of his heart, as shown through his own words. Even so, it must be admitted nevertheless that such knowledge as is derived from talk­ing and associating with a man is bound to be indirect and mediate, and not direct and immediate knowledge of his heart. A man is a mystery as respects the actual thoughts in his mind so far as other men are able to judge, in­cluding even his most intimate associates and closest friends. So, when Nathaniel heard his own character being revealed and described by a man who was beholding him for the first time, he was naturally perplexed and puzzled, and in consequence wondering at the matter he said: “Whence knowest thou me?” or, as one would ordinarily say in modern English, “How on earth is it that you know me?” – for Nathaniel was still uncon­vinced of the fact that he was facing the person of Christ. But he was told:

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.” – John 1:48

“I saw thee,” Jesus told him, “under the fig tree before Philip called thee, when thou wast expressing the requests of thy heart to the Lord in prayer­ thy longing, I mean, to see the Christ, the glory of Israel. I saw thee revealing mystically and in contrition of heart thy most sacred prayers to God. I saw thee not with the eyes of a mere man, however, but as God Him­self become incarnate in man.” At this unexpected reply of Jesus, Nathaniel was astonished and amazed. He was convinced that he was really facing the Christ, and he commenced thinking to himself and pondering matters in his mind, and found himself justifying Philip for having told him, “Come and see.” That is why he said in response to the Lord’s words:

“Nathaniel answered and said unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God: thou art the King of Israel.” – John 1:49

Nathaniel recognized Jesus as being the Son of God and as being the King of Israel. He was informed by virtue of his own experience – that is to say, he could judge from what he had himself seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears – and he accordingly acknowledged and confessed aloud the great truth concerning Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” In other words, he acknowledged and confessed aloud the right doctrine of salvation. As much as to say, “Thou art the God-man, the king of the souls of the guileless, of the sincere, of the humble, of the unfeigning (or unhypocritical), of those who think logically and make reasonable decisions, of those who are free of pharisaical hypoc­risy and conceit and haughtiness, of those who are not pursuing earthly honors and worldly dignities – that is to say, social distinctions and political offices-but who, on the contrary, love true virtue. Thou art the eternal Logos (or Word) of God, the One whom sincere souls love and seek after, the One who hast come into the world in order to become the nourishment and enjoyment of such souls. Thou, O my Jesus, art the light of mine in­tellect, and the object of yearning of my heart! So, to Thee I devote myself wholly and entirely: I honor Thee, I worship Thee; to Thee I submit and to Thee I offer obedience. Become Thou my guide and my Savior. I love Thee sincerely, because Thou art worthy of the love of a pure, guileless, unhypo­critical heart, and because Thou art likewise pure, guileless, unhypocritical. Thou art the Bridegroom of pure, of holy souls.” Such were the thoughts implied in the mind of Nathaniel when he answered, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” – John 1:50-51

In other words, Jesus told him: “From the mere fact that I told thee, Nathaniel, that I bad seen thee under the fig tree praying and petitioning God to reveal unto thee the Messiah, hast thou been led to believe? How­beit, thou shalt see many things greater that these things, and thy faith shall be enhanced and augmented and strengthened more than ever. Truly do I tell thee that henceforward thou shall become a witness of miraculous sights and wonderful spectacles; for thou shalt see heaven opened – that is to say, thou shalt see the firmament of the sky unveiled – and the angels of God as­cending upon the Son of man, whom thou in the light of faith art now to be commended as having rightly acknowledged and confessed aloud to be the Son of God and the King of Israel.

As a consequence of having heard but a few words thou hast entered the way of true faith, and of the confession thereof, but thou shalt see signs and wonders and miracles being performed by Me in the midst of men; and thou shalt hear the teaching of doctrines such as no man has ever taught; and thou shalt be led to penetrate more deeply into the spirit of faith and of thy right acknowledgment and correct confession that I am the Son of God and the King of Israel. Remain thou in My company. Follow Me, and thou shalt see greater things than thou hast seen, and shalt hear more marvelous things than thou hast heard!”

Thus did Nathaniel become a disciple and Apostle of the Lord, num­bered as one of the twelve and renamed Bartholomew, which, being inter­preted into English, means “son of Tholomew,” and which is the name applied to him by the three other Evangelists. A guileless and sincere soul yearning with sincerity for the true good, the true blessing, the true boon,· the true summum bonum, in a word, for the one known as Christ, his soul at length succeeded in having its wish granted and was rewarded with the realization of it when Christ invited him to come to Him, and enlightened and strengthened him in virtue, and perfected his soul and lifted it up into the likeness of God, as He did also all the souls of His other disciples and de­votees. Accordingly, we too shall become such if, after believing in Christ and acknowledging and confessing aloud that He is the God-man, we re­main in Him obedient to the end, submitting to discipline, becoming refined and morally perfected and altogether like Him.

While rightly believing and entertaining a right opinion of Jesus Christ such as Nathaniel entertained and openly confessed and acknowledged, we ought also to conjoin with our orthodoxy, or right belief, the additional qualification of orthopraxy, or right behavior and right conduct, lest we otherwise incur condemnation and be judged worthy of perdition rather than of salvation; for orthodoxy will be of no benefit to us at all without or­thopraxy – that is to say, right belief is of no avail without good deeds. Right belief and good and benevolent deeds justify, save, lift up, aggrandize; and being really followers and initiates of orthodoxy, we must expect to become practicers of virtue and doers of good deeds.

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