1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
In 2013, while I was teaching and serving as Chaplain at St. Patrick’s Episcopal School, I was invited to go along with a group of people from the church and school to visit our sister church, St. Etienne in Haiti. I had been praying about this opportunity and was thrilled to have the chance to meet the people with whom St. Patrick’s has had a relationship for more than 35 years. We were told what to bring along for ourselves and what we would pack to share with the children of Haiti. But nothing could really prepare me for my first experience there.
Landing in Port-au-Prince we stumbled out of the airport into a city choked with cars going in every direction. People dressed in business suits and beautiful clothes rushed to catch wildly painted buses (tap taps) crammed to the limits or clung to the back of motorcycles as they sped along the unpaved roads and sometimes the sidewalks. There were no apparent street signs or signals. Everyone fought for the same crowded space around the occasional broken down car. And so my first moments were filled with white knuckle excitement mixed with fear. But once we arrived at our home for the evening, we were greeted with kindness and generosity.
The owners of the house, in addition to running this business ran a church, a school, and a technology firm. They had lived and raised their children in the United States. But following the devastating earthquake in 2010, they knew they needed to come home and help their people. So every morning, before we would get up, they would prepare a large breakfast, take young people in the neighborhood to school, and then for the rest of the day they would plan church ministries, organize training programs for people to learn the technology business, and counsel young people looking for work in Haiti. From the moment we arrived, we were welcomed. People regardless of their own situation, hauled water up the mountain for our comfort, prepared lavish meals, and showed us what it looks like to rush toward hope everyday embracing with enthusiasm that God is with them and that God can be depended upon. The Haitian people inspired me with their irrepressible faith. I was and continue to be, in awe of their generous spirit and how they embraced us, telling us in so many ways how glad they were that we were there. What we can learn from experiencing these people!
As we have now left behind the season of Advent and Christmas and entered into the brief but luminous season of Epiphany, we enter a time of light and revelation, a season of searching and discovering. Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphania that means “to show, make known or reveal.” One of the important questions we ask at this time is what we can learn from the grace filled vision of Jesus.
Our reading today from the Gospel of John, finds Jesus as he has come from his baptism and has begun to call followers to him. He first is followed by Andrew who goes and seeks his brother Peter telling him that Jesus is the hoped-for Messiah. The next day Jesus goes to Galilee where he invites Phillip to follow him. Phillip finds his friend Nathanael and tells him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ To which Nathanael remarks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Phillip replies, “Come and see.”
When Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward him, he greets him with generosity. He says, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Jesus finds the good in Nathanael and calls it out. He compliments Nathanael, calling out their connection, affirming the very quality—without deceit, who is honest and cannot hide his feelings—that contributed to his sarcastic response. Then he lets Nathanael know that he saw him. “Seeing” is more than just a physical sighting, it is noting someone’s presence, valuing them enough to pay attention. And then he tells Nathanael that he will see far greater things as he walks with Jesus.
Seeing is always selective. We have choices when it comes to what we see, what we prioritize, what we name, and what we call out in each other. Jesus had a choice when it came to seeing Nathanael. What would have happened if instead of calling out Nathanael’s purity of heart, Jesus would have said, “Here is a cynic, who is stunted by doubt,” or “Here is a man who is ignorant and judgmental,” or “Here is a man who sits around all day waiting for life to happen to him.”
Any of those things might have been a part of the truth of Nathanael. But Jesus saw Nathanael fully. Jesus saw who Nathanael was at his core. Jesus named the quality he wanted to bless and draw out in his would-be follower. Jesus sees who God has created us to be. Jesus sees us as beloved children of God and invites those who follow him to see others in this way. Jesus sees and names Nathanael who is made in the image and likeness of God.
It is easy for us to fall into the trap of seeing what we expect to see. Each of us have been raised and shaped by our culture in particular ways that create images in front of our eyes when we look at certain people. There are many assumptions that we pick up as we walk through life, that either consciously or unconsciously affect how we see and often judge people.
But each of us are dependent on the mercy of others. Each of us carry wounds that we hope others do not see or hold against us. Each of us hope that others do not judge us solely and irrevocably by our gender or our age, our occupation or how much money we make, our amount of education, etc. We hope people who know us well and therefore know our faults, give us the benefit of the doubt, choose to see what we have become. Each of us want to be seen as Jesus sees us, knowing that Jesus sees our core, sees our hopes, sees what we long to be. Jesus intends for us to see each other this way.
This week the President in a closed-door discussion trying to find a way to fix the broken immigration system in our country, failed to see the extraordinary possibility in every person. While the despicable comment he made about people in countries where brown and black people live is appalling, it is the message that people from certain countries are undeserving of our respect and compassion that begs the light of the Good News be shone on it.
Though there have been other moments where this administration has displayed its contempt for refugees and immigrants, this particular disconnect, a thousand miles wide, speaks to the president’s observations and Christian theology and practice. It’s hard to reconcile these words with Jesus’ core teachings: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). “Just as you did it to (or said it about) one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). And the Bible is very clear about how we are to care for and welcome the stranger. The president’s comments call us to live as the contrast presence we can be, as followers of Jesus Christ.
I have been to Haiti. Haiti is not an abstraction of poverty and difference and status. The people of Haiti and El Salvador and Africa are children of God. They embody the same gifts and failings that we do. They hold the same hopes and dreams for their families and are willing to work hard so that a bright future is possible. I met in my time in Haiti, people who poured out their hearts and souls to care for the hundreds of children God gave them to serve. And many people from Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa when they have come to this country have served it with great love and distinction as teachers and doctors and soldiers and professors.
The timing of the president’s comments were particularly painful in that they were made near the 8th anniversary of the horrific earthquake that in 2010 caused the deaths of more than 300,000 people and left millions of people homeless. Many churches and schools, government offices, hospitals, and medical schools were destroyed. And yet the people did not give up hope or shrink from the desperate challenges of rebuilding their lives and their country.
The comments also occurred at a moment when the gaps between his words and the Good News yawned astonishingly as we prepare to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, our national prophet. The Rev. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” That is a human truth, but it’s particularly a Christian truth. We are bound together. As Jesus prayed to his Father, “The glory that you have given me, I have given [my followers], so that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one…” (John 17:22-23). We are connected to each other, no matter where each of us are born.
Jesus over and over throughout his life reached out and brought into the circle of eternal compassion people who others saw as unworthy and expendable. Jesus looked at them and saw their true worth, their goodness and their importance in the kingdom of God. Jesus healed and shared and taught and cherished. Jesus shows us how we can see like he did. It is not always easy. It requires our willingness to put our trust in the power of love.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Can anything good come out of Haiti?
Can anything good come out of El Salvador or Africa?
You betcha!! Yes!! Jesus comes to us all and reminds us that each of us are God’s beloved. That each of us are searched and known for all that we are and all that we are capable of being. Each of us are marvelously made.