I remember the moment I met my wife like it was yesterday. It was a blind date – a blind date that had been encouraged by my parents. I wasn’t sure what to expect – my dad had said she was cute. My mom said I should call her. I did. And so I drove an hour to Wauchula – what good can come from Wauchula?
So there I was at the front door of her parents’ home. I rang the bell. She opened the door and I was done. He big brown eyes swallowed me up: Very cute. I never let her forget that at the time she had two hairstyles. From the top to just below her ears her hair was brown and wavy. From there down it was blonde and frizzy – she was growing out a perm. But I remember what she was wearing, how she’d done her makeup, everything.
By the end of the evening I’d fallen in love. Within two weeks I was ready to ask her to marry me. But that evening at dinner she made this hilarious comment about how the last guy she’d dated wanted to marry her after two weeks. So I waited another two weeks. Within 3 months we were married.
We celebrate our anniversary next Sunday. We have much to celebrate – four wonderful children, four beautiful grandchildren, a life well lived and well loved. We’ve had our challenges too, but the celebration is all the more sweet because of the ways we’ve prayed and worked through them.
All I knew that night we met was that sense of falling in love. It felt great. It felt important. And as sincere as my feelings at the time were, I know her so much better now. We’ve been through so much together now. I love her so much more now because of all that.
And I couldn’t possibly have known the enormity of what that relationship would mean in terms of the universe of life that has sprung from that first meeting.
In today’s Gospel we find Jesus meeting two of his disciples, Philip and Nathaniel. We don’t hear much about Philip at this point. He will pop up several times in John’s Gospel, notably at the feeding of the 5,000 and at several key points in Acts. We don’t hear much more about Nathaniel, in fact they think he’s called by another name, probably Bartholomew, moving forward.
Nathaniel’s meeting is filled with history and portents of the future. Jesus immediately tags him with a reference to Jacob. Jacob’s name means usurper and he was known for his guile and shrewdness. But in Nathaniel there is no guile. “Under the fig tree” is likely an idiom for meditating on scripture, so it may be that he was studying the story of Jacob. The angels ascending and descending is at once a reference to what we call Jacob’s ladder, when he was dreaming at Bethel, and Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man. In any case, Jesus says he saw him, and he nailed him, hit him spot-on.
Nathaniel’s reaction indicates that this is a Psalm 139, “You have searched me out and known me” sort of moment. “You know my sitting down and my rising up, you discern my thoughts from afar.”
And there are three points I’d like to make about that.
First: You are known. Jesus already sees us that way, from afar yet intimately and completely. He knows what is on our hearts. He knows the ways we fail. And he loves us. That does not mean he approves of everything we do. Some of it he will insist on changing – out of his immeasurable and complete love. His love is also the means of making those changes.
Second: You are loved. That love, like every love, changes us. Our life’s journey with him is like those first Apostles’. They could not possibly know that day what would unfold. They haven’t even gotten to that first miracle at Cana yet. That’s the very next thing. Even these lofty superlatives that Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathaniel are giving him right away are hyperbole, or as William Temple put it “outburst of an exalted hope rather than formulations of settled conviction.”
At the start, it’s not unlike me falling in love with my wife on the first date. There is so much more to it as time and life follow.
And finally: You are called. I want you to join me in looking at the verses in Psalm 139 that we skipped – verses 6 through 11. I don’t know why we skipped them. Are we in that much of a rush? Page 794.
Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, *
and the light around me turn to night,"
Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.
He not only knows everything there is, was or ever will be about you, you cannot get away from his love. I suppose we can deny it or refuse it, but even then God’s love would be shared in sorrow.
And you are not meant to be a passive recipient. Love is relationship and the relationship comes with his constant invitation to follow him and participate in his saving work. Just as those first disciples. Note the distinction between this call and the call of Samuel. Samuel is called to be a prophet. The people are to listen to him and obey what he says as coming directly from the Lord. Buy no one is expected to start doing what he does – prophesying like Samuel. Jesus invites his disciples to be integral parts of his work, proclaiming and ushering in the Kingdom of God. That call has been handed down across the centuries to us as well.
If you haven’t met Jesus, I would dearly love to talk with you about that. If you have met him, or are meeting him, then you are on an eternal adventure.
I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis. This is from Out of the Silent Planet, the first novel in a space trilogy he wrote.
“When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes me all my days till then, - that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.”
I hope and pray you have friendships like that. I hope and pray your friendship with Jesus is like that. It will go on forever and it will get more beautiful every day.