“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) That verse from a Zoom morning prayer meeting the other day brought me up short. Actually, I laughed out loud, (thankfully I was on mute). It was such a funny, very human way for Nathaniel to react upon hearing about Jesus from an overjoyed Philip.
Nathaniel’s first thought? He questioned whether someone from Nazareth, of all places, was worth his time, or even to be trusted. He was saying that about the Son of God. Talk about jumping to conclusions.
Despite that skepticism, though, Nathaniel responds to Philip’s invitation to “come and see” (John 1:46) and meets Jesus. The text then says: “When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathaniel asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:47-48)
Stunned by this, Nathaniel replies “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49) and becomes a disciple on the spot.
There’s much to unpack in this short passage, and I have so many questions. What was so bad about Nazareth? Why did Philip automatically think Jesus was the one foretold? How did Nathaniel change his mind so quickly? And, really, couldn’t Jesus have just been spying from a distance on him? Nathaniel’s abrupt shift from suspicious to amazed seems a little quick to me, seeing as it’s made on rather flimsy evidence, to my mind. But change he did. I guess that’s what happens when you’re faced with the reality of Jesus in person – what he is becomes very clear, very quickly.
This passage speaks to me because I tend to be the one asking, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” when faced with something new, uncertain or scary. I’m a classic overthinker and spend an inordinate amount of time running countless scenarios in my head for pretty much everything. When encountering anything new – even if it’s the most wonderful thing imaginable – I will come up with 50 reasons why it will definitely lead to an unmitigated disaster. Ah the human brain; so amazing and yet so bent on seeing danger everywhere.
I think that’s why I find Nathaniel – and all the disciples who abandoned their lives to follow this strange man who just wandered by one day – so puzzling and yet admirable. Where did they get that sense of trust? How did they know for sure that Jesus was what he appeared to be? Did they not worry they were leaving the familiar for something completely unknown?
It's Nathaniel’s willingness to leap headlong into uncertainty, (after a bit of due diligence), that speaks to me. He had no idea what was coming but decided to follow anyway. This one decision opened for him an entirely new way of knowing the world. It upended his life, but for the better. He found meaning and purpose as a follower of Jesus – all because he looked beyond his initial uncertainty and skepticism to consider what was possible.
Nathaniel’s willingness to stay open and embrace uncertainty is something I want to carry into every day. Even though I may worry about what’s coming I will still move forward with an open mind. After all, a lot of good can come from Nazareth and having a little faith in the Divine.
Kevin Aschenbrenner is a Victoria-based writer, poet and communications professional. He holds an M.A. in Culture and Spirituality from the Sophia Center at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. He blogs at www.dearpopefrancis.ca.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, January 21st 2023.