29 Sept 2017: Are You Nathaniel or Philip?

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Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – Archangels

Reading 1: Dn. 7:9-10, 13-14; Gospel: Jn. 1: 47-51

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend the service at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls Philip to be with Him and experience Him. Philip could not keep the experience to himself. He tells Nathanael about Jesus, so that he too could experience what he experienced of Jesus. But Nathanael is skeptical and not eager to believe that a Messiah can come from Nazareth. He says: “Can anything good come from that place?” He is referring to Nazareth, our Lord’s hometown. Nazareth was a neighbouring village and a rather insignificant place. Aren’t we told often not to judge a book by its cover? Well, our prejudices and biases often prevent us from seeing the beauty, the greatness and the potential of the person before us. And the story above shows such kind of prejudice. Nathanael fell into such a trap when he said such words.

Perhaps we are like Nathanael. We reject others or distance ourselves from them because they come from some places or positions that we don’t like or find fault with. But Philip is different. Instead of arguing with Nathanael, he takes the wiser strategy of inviting Nathaniel to “come and see” for himself who this Jesus really is. Actually, arguing with people rarely wins them to the gospel but an encounter with Jesus can transform their lives forever. Nathaniel finds in Jesus more than what he dreams and hopes for because Jesus speaks to him a word about the innermost thoughts and desires of his heart, at which he is wonder-struck. And that is, Nathaniel is hungry for knowledge of God. He really wants to know God personally. God places in our hearts a longing and a desire to know the One who created us in love and for love. That is why Augustine of Hippo, who found God only after many years of wandering in disbelief and darkness, exclaimed: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Nathanael is like this.

Precious sisters and brothers, Jesus reminds us also that whatever our backgrounds are, we are welcome to follow Him. It is a consolation to know that the Lord, when He calls us, does not demand so much of our qualifications like certificates, diplomas, status in life, education, etc, but our willingness to follow him. Yes, God calls not so much the worthy but the willing.

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