Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Laughable Gospel - Homily

Weekday Homily
St. John the Baptist Parish, Newburgh, Indiana
January 5, 2017
John 1:43-51

A close reading of today’s Gospel makes us want to laugh. Jesus is calling his disciples, and today He calls Philip. Philip runs to find Nathanael with this great exclamation: 
‘Hey! We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets. We found the savior we have been awaiting! His name is Jesus, and he’s the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ 
Can you imagine someone coming to you while you’re at work and exclaiming something we are awaiting, like the Second Coming? 
‘Hey! I saw Jesus Christ returning on the clouds over in Rockport. He’s coming to judge the earth and to take us all home to Heaven!’ 
Laughable, right? Unbelievable, seemingly. And so, Nathanael answers honestly: 
‘The long-awaited savior? The Son of David? And he’s from Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ 
Maybe you thought something similar when you heard I was coming to St. John’s (or Memorial): 
‘He’s from Haubstadt? Can anything good come from Haubstadt (or Gibson Southern)?’ 
But Philip is not thrown off by Nathanael’s sarcasm. He says, “Come and see.” 

Now it gets even more humorous. Jesus sees Nathanael coming and gives these wild compliments: 
Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” 
That’s like saying of one of you, 
“Here is a true follower of Christ, an ambassador of the Holy Father in Rome and of the True Catholic Church. There is nothing about him or her that even hints at disbelief or anything but charity, grace, and truth.” 
And imagine this being said by someone you have never met! My response would be pretty cautious: 
“What? Who are you?” or maybe “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
But not Nathanael. He puffs out his chest and responds, “How do you know me?” as if this stranger’s praises are dead on. 
‘Ding-ding-ding! All of you bone head friends of mine give me a rough time, but someone finally gives me the credit I deserve.’
This is where Jesus says something that sounds kind of funny: 
‘I know this because I saw you under the fig tree.’  

Wait ....what?

And Nathaniel counters with his own seemingly-flattering phrase: 
Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
But it is Jesus who delivers the final punch line: 
‘Really? You figured that out because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.’

We are all called to follow Jesus, just like these apostles. And just like Nathanael, Jesus’ call smacks against our worldly minds as laughable.
'Follow you (Jn 1)? Why?' 
‘Leave everything and follow you (Mt 19:21)? Ha! But life is so good....'
‘Whoever leaves behind family and lands and worldly things for your sake and the sake of the Kingdom will have 100 times more in this life? And in the life to come (Mk 10:30)? Prove it!’
There is much to laugh at when reading today’s Gospel text carefully, and I wonder whether a careful look at our lives might reveal the same laughter in our own encounters with Jesus. We say, "But Lord...
'But Lord, I have everything I need.’
'But Lord, the priesthood seems so boring.’
'Jesus, so many religious orders are fading away.’
'But I can do good as a married man or woman.'  
Or ‘Keep giving my life to my spouse when he treats me like garbage? When she won’t ever let me have a say in the matter, let alone make any decisions?’
'Give up my life? I wish I could. Maybe when I'm older' or 'Maybe when this or that changes...' 
And I wonder if that isn’t the very reason we are able to see the humor in the Gospel story today—because we are already laughing in the face of our God. 

Our God who so patiently awaits us to listen and follow him.