Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Second Sunday after The Epiphany, 2018.
While we have something of a dramatic shift of liturgical color from white to green, the prayer of the Church as guided by the appointed Scripture passages continues in the same general flow that began even back in Advent. That is, the epiphany of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: the showing forth of Jesus to the world, showing forth who He is, showing forth how we are to understand Him as God, and even more so, a showing forth of how our restless hearts can only find true rest in God, our restless eyes can only find rest in the true Light that enlightens every man and woman and child—a showing forth that invites us to boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and embrace the Holy Spirit of God which dwells in our body, our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit within us. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them as light shined. To us a child has been born, to use a son is given—and He is Mighty God, he is Prince of Peace.
All through this long stretch of celebrating the mystery of how God has shown forth Himself to the world, we have seen that the revelation is not have an intellectual system, not a collection of doctrines, and not a treatise of moral values. The Christian revelation is rather an encounter. And in the encounter is a confrontation between Jesus Christ and His disciples—starting with Blessed Mary, whose encounter with God becomes the template for all encounters with the Holy One. Then Elizabeth, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, then John the Baptizer in his maturity (having already encounter Jesus through His mother while they were both in utero). In all cases of encountering God, the solid test is whether the direction of our live changes. God upends our plans, upends our itinerary. We are always on the way home, but how we get there God often waits to reveal until the moment He knows will have the most effect and in our thoughts, decision and action will have the most consequence.
In the First Book of Samuel, God waited to reveal Himself to Samuel until the boy was ready, and in a proper environment to receive the truth, indeed that he would be the replacement for Israel’s failed leadership. Divine guidance was missing, we are told, in those days. The blindness of Eli is symbolic—symbolic of the lack of knowledge of the Lord. God found a way to use this situation, use this predicament for His glory. The people hungry and thirsty for God’s leadership would more readily accept the prophesy of Samuel and God’s authority as revealed through him. God allows times of scarcity to exist to wake people up, to make them desire Him more, to increase their daily prayer, and to show us that we alone cannot help ourselves—that it is God who is always the source of salvation. God wants to see us come to Him on our knees in prayer and supplication, open to being surprised by His plan for us.
Nathanael, too, was surprised. He was surprised that God knew him. Yet Nathanael was under the fig tree, which is a biblical symbol for a shelter of peaceful, silent prayer. So of course Jesus knew him when he was under the fig tree—He knows everyone who prays, for wherever Jesus is loved, there He is. To have no guile, as Nathanael is described by Jesus, to have that willing attitude of honest openness to Jesus, coming to Him not to make Jesus do anything or try to bend Him to our wishes, but simply to love Him, be in His presence, and learn from Him through whatever gifts He might give.
And so although it is subtle, we are taught something important about discipleship by Nathanael’s example. Our openness to being confronted by Jesus, surprised by Jesus, altered by Jesus, and ultimately changed by Jesus has a direct relationship to how much of Him we will learn, understand, and take to heart. When we have an open heart, we too will see greater and greater things. We too will see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man, that is, the union of Jesus and the Father and their uninterrupted communication—indeed, the true glory of Jesus, and it is only revealed to those who are open to Him, who come to Him without guile, without agenda, without need for control. Seeing how the heavens open and how angels ascend and descend upon the Son of man, Jesus Christ, is the whole purpose of the four Gospel accounts, and indeed the whole purpose of the New Testament—that our encounters with Him in the Mass and most especially in His Precious Body and Blood of the Eucharist, and thus filled with His presence, our encounters of Him in our lives, may be so efficacious, so illuminating, so radiant, that as we know, worship and obey Him to the ends of the earth, we may proclaim without guile, joining Nathanael, Jesus Christ, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel. Amen.