Call and knowledge


Call and knowledge

Published: 17th February, 2024

The Second Sunday of Epiphany
14th January 2023
1 Samuel 3.1-10
Psalm 139.1-9
John 1.43-end

In the Name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

An epiphany is a moment of clarity or revelation; the gospel readings on the Sundays between the Feast of the Epiphany and the Feast of Candlemas each focus on a particular epiphany from the gospel stories of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

This morning’s gospel reading presents us with one story that contains two distinct but related epiphanies.

The first is the calling of Philip.  Jesus calls.  This immediately connects Jesus with the God revealed in the Old Testament.  The God revealed in the Old Testament is the God who calls; the God who calls people often by name, as in the case of Samuel; the God who calls people to some specific task or service.  Without thinking too hard we can probably all immediately recall the call of Abraham and the call of Moses.  But there are many more such stories.  Samuel, Isaiah and Jonah immediately spring to mind.  And there are many others.  God’s preferred method of dealing with human beings is by working through people; to this end God repeatedly calls flawed human beings to His service.

In calling Philip, Jesus reveals His relationship with the Father, and the continuity between Old and New Testaments is emphasized.  And yet Jesus’ call is also distinctive; He says to Philip: “Follow me”.  This is the characteristic call of the Word made flesh, of God made manifest in humanity.  Jesus can call us to follow Him, because He is both human and divine, He is Lord and yet He is also one of us.

The second epiphany in this morning’s gospel concerns Jesus’ call of Nathaniel.  And it also relates particularly to this morning’s wonderful psalm: “Lord, you have searched me and known me”.  One of the characteristics of God in the Old Testament is omniscience, and in particular a profound knowledge and understanding of human beings.  As God says to the prophet Jeremiah: “my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight”.

Jesus knows that Nathaniel is under the fig tree.  He knows this, even though He is not there when Philip goes to fetch his brother.  This greatly impresses Nathaniel, who had previously been sceptical that anything good could come from Nazareth; He exclaims: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel”.  In this second epiphany, Jesus is revealed as sharing in some way in the Father’s omniscience.  I say “in some way”, because this is a theologically complex matter.  Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.  Jesus Himself declares that there are things that He does not know, and as a human being He must be capable of growth, He must be capable of learning.  And yet here, in this interaction with Nathaniel, it is unambiguous that Jesus possesses knowledge that He could not know by purely human powers.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.

Psalm 139 is both a profoundly comforting and profoundly challenging psalm.  The idea of a God who really knows us, a God to whom we do not have to pretend, a God before whom there can be no pretence, a God who is always with us, whether we are in the depths of Sheol or at the farthest limits of the sea…  there is great consolation in the knowledge of such a God.  And yet as much as I love this psalm, whenever I recite this psalm in the Daily Office I always find myself giving a slight shudder.  It is after all this deep knowledge and understanding of human beings that leads God to convict the sons of Eli.  There is no running away from God.

Two distinct but related epiphanies, two different but connected glimpses of Christ’s divinity: like the God of the Old Testament, Jesus calls; and like the God of the Old Testament, Jesus knows.

What then for us?

Jesus calls us just as He calls Philip and Nathaniel.  He calls us with the distinctive call of the Word made flesh: “follow me”.  He has shown us the way to go; He is the way, and the truth, and the life.  We can walk in His steps and in His paths.  He calls us entire and whole as only He can call.  His call is on the whole of our lives.  He can call us in this way because He has searched us and knows us; He knows our thoughts from far away.

And for us there is both comfort and challenge in both this call and in this knowledge.

To be called, to be chosen, even to be desired, to be known: this is perhaps our deepest longing.  To grasp that we are called and chosen and known by God is something mind-blowing, something beyond our grasp; and also something that gives us a sense of dignity and esteem.  To be known and beloved of God is the very greatest thing.  There is no greater comfort, no greater assurance.

And yet there is challenge too because we do not always know how to respond to this call.  When we read the stories of the first disciples we frequently see how their attempts to follow Jesus are riddled with misunderstandings.  Or perhaps we do know but there is something that holds us back.  We are called whole and entire and yet we respond only in part.  And then the Lord who searches and knows us does not feel so comforting.

But perhaps we should return to the story of Nathaniel.  Confronted with Jesus’ divine knowledge, he responds: “You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”.  Trusting in His loving purposes for us, may we too respond to the divine knowledge that searches and knows us not in fear but in praise.

In the Name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen