JANUARY 5, 2002, HOMILY :  JOHN 1:43-51

CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME FROM NAZARETH? (John 1:46) These words of Nathaniel are regularly taken as a skeptical, even caustic comment by a future apostle who, before meeting Jesus, is prejudiced against any claim that he could be God's anointed Messiah. However, there is another way of reading this text in the original Greek, and both the ancient Latin Vulgate and the Syriac translations admit of the same interpretation. ‘Something good can come from Nazareth,' is a possible literal understanding of this sentence. My attention was drawn to this way of interpreting Nathaniel's words when I read St. Augustine's commentary on this passage. For he, who was so attentive to each word of the inspired text, using the Latin version reads it precisely in this way. In fact, basing himself on this text he considers that Nathaniel was a highly learned man who had drawn this conclusion after a thorough study of the Scriptures. As if he were to say: ‘So something good can come from Nazareth.' Augustine even considered that Nathaniel is not one of the twelve and the reason is that the Lord want to confound the pride of the learned classes by choosing only simple fishermen who were unlettered. He puts his case in the following terms.

We are to understand that Nathaniel was erudite and expert in the Law. For that reason the Lord did not wish to place him among his disciples , for he chose simple men by this means to confound the world. . . . It was by virtue of his learning in the Law that it happened that soon as he heard ‘from Nazareth' (since he had carefully examined the Scriptures and knew that from there a Savior was expected- a fact the other Scribes and Pharisees did not easily know- This man most learned in the Law, was raised up in hope soon as he heard Phillip saying: ‘We have found Jesus of Nazareth '... (Tractatus in Joannis Evangelium 7:17 BAC Madrid 1955, 238)

One lesson that stands out in either reading of this passage is that the initiative for the call to follow Jesus comes from him; it is not of our making. Because he can see into the deepest places of Nathaniel's heart, he suddenly makes himself present to the guileless israelite in a way that convinces him that he is in the presence of the one sent by God. The Bishop of Hippo was emphatic on this point: ‘Did we first seek Christ,' he asked, ‘and he did not seek us? Did we who are sick go to the doctor and the doctor not come to us first?' Had not the sheep got lost and the shepherd, leaving the ninety nine, looked for it?. . . And so we are sought for that we might be found' (op. cit. 21, p. 244).

Nathaniel's encounter with our Lord is meant to remind each of us that the most hidden thoughts of our heart, the depths of our spirit are open to the God who sends for us through his Son to seek us out. Just as God makes use of Philip to bring Nathaniel to recognize his Son as Savior, so he makes use of the Church and his word to reveal himself to each of us. For he is ingenious in seeking us; he knows where to look, whom to send, what word to speak so as to give us confidence and the light we require tc find the One who ever seeks after us. As we offer this Eucharist in thanksgiving for the gifts he offers us, may we experience that if we are here to hear and receive him in his word and sacrament it is because he loves us and gives himself that we might find him now and for ages unending.

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