« First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord, Year B | Main | Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B »

Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Printer-friendly version

John 1:43-51
- link to NRSV text

Have you ever taken one of the Implicit Association Tests (IATs)? These tests have been used for psychological research on people's implicit assumptions about others in terms of a variety of categories -- age, race, sexual orientation, skin tone, religion, and others, and there's evidence that they can be very effective in testing what attitudes and prejudices people have, and there's often a marked contrast between that and what people are willing to report or even what they're aware of about themselves. An Implicit Association Test takes 10 minutes of less to complete, and the results are striking -- I encourage you to check them out.

The results are often rather jarring, though. Most of us want to think of ourselves as open-minded and unprejudiced, but when we're put to the test in a way that gets beyond what we think we ought to think, nearly all of us are prejudiced in ways that reinforce and perpetuate injustice -- even kinds of injustice that we spend a lot of energy consciously trying to rectify. I've done a lot of work on my own racism, and the test on attitudes toward White and African Americans still shows that I affiliate good qualities far more strongly with white faces than with black faces. I'm a woman, a professional, and a feminist, but I still have at least a moderate association of maleness with career and femaleness with family compared to the other way around. The list goes on. I'm prejudiced, and mostly privileging those whom our society privileges -- even in terms of categories where I belong to the less privileged class.

That can be hard to admit. In the circles in which I generally move, “open-minded” is considered a compliment and “prejudiced” an insult, and on the whole, I think this is as it should be. There are some things, though, about how our minds work that make complete open-mindedness impossible and not entirely desirable. If you place a wax bowl on a pedestal in your microwave and zap it for a while, it'll become so open that it won't hold anything. Our minds work in part by organizing information into categories, by keeping things distinct in ways that are artificial but at least occasionally helpful.

People in Jesus' culture weren't so embarrassed about some of the things we consider “prejudice,” though, and this week's gospel story is an excellent case in point. Nathaniel is convinced that if he knows which village Jesus came from, he'll know as much about Jesus as he needs to know -- much as he would if he knew who Jesus' father was. Furthermore, Nathan is fine with that cutting both ways. He asks Jesus literally, “from where do you know me (to be)?” -- NOT meaning, as the NRSV misleadingly suggests “where did you have a chance to get to know me?” or “where have we interacted before?” but rather something more like “what do you believe to be my hometown?” Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree,” in words reminiscent of Old Testament passages in which this image stands for one's home (props to Malina and Rohrbaugh on this). In other words, Jesus saw Nathaniel at home, and therefore knows everything he needs to know about him. His culture wasn't individualistic or introspective as ours is, so people would have perceived this manner of thinking about who's trustworthy as being perfectly reasonable. Indeed, the Gospel of John itself takes up this style of assessing people; the first thing it tells us about Philip is that he is from Bethesda, the city of Andrew and Peter, and I think it's fair to say that the writer seems to think that this will tell readers what they need to know about Philip. This is a particularly reasonable assumption to make since Philip behaves as Andrew and Peter do.

It's still very fortunate (a blessing, even) that the people in this story did not stick to what was reasonable.

Nathaniel notes that Jesus comes from Nazareth, which indicates that he's got no messianic credentials (and the Gospel According to John says nothing to suggest that the author sees Jesus as coming from anywhere other than Nazareth) -- but when invited to “come and see,” Nathaniel goes anyway, and sees that Jesus is a teacher, the Son of God, and the King of Israel.

That underscores for me what the crucial question is about prejudice: not “should we have prejudices?” (because we do and we can't help it even if it was going to be to our advantage to do so), but “what do we do when confronted with something or someone not matching our prior expectations?”

When Nathaniel is confronted with the phenomenon that Philip believes a person from Nazareth to be the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, he is willing to come and see. His trust for Philip overcomes his prejudice at least enough for him to go to Jesus to investigate, to question him, and to listen to the answers. That's important.

And then what Nathaniel hears doesn't fit with his prior assumption that nothing good can come from Nazareth, and Nathaniel makes another important decision: He revises his assumption. He's willing to tweak or even discard his categories to accommodate new information, a truth that doesn't fit prejudice, so he can confess the truth he now knows about Jesus.

That just might be even more important, because as crucial as this turning-point is for Nathaniel, he's going to be asked to do some even more radical revision in the days to come. He's confessed that Jesus is a blessed teacher, the Son of God, and the King of Israel, but Jesus is not going to behave as those categories would suggest. Jesus associates with those whom the authorities deem outsiders rejected by God and right-thinking Israelites. He's going to confront the power of Rome, but not to seek his own crown; he will die the death of a slave rather than take a place at the head of an army. If Nathaniel is going to continue to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, eventually that will mean more than revising his expectations about Jesus ...

It will mean revising his expectations for God.

Nathaniel will have to let go of the idea that God's blessing of Israel hinges on Israel's remaining distinct from the nations to follow a mission that invites all nations to join the people of Israel in God's kingdom. He will have to let go of the idea that God's justice is about punishing the unrighteous to follow the Son of God who blesses and forgives his persecutors. And he'll have to let go of more than ideas: he'll be leaving behind his village, his family, everything upon which he formerly found honor to follow one whom the world shamed but God exalted. He'll lose his life as he knew it, and find abundant life beyond all expectation.

Thanks be to God!

January 11, 2006 in Call Narratives, Epiphany, John, Year B | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c234653ef00d834a0791969e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B:

Comments

Very helpful. It brought to my mind those images that challenge us to look closely - the image of the old woman that is also an image of a young woman, or the wine glass shaped by two profiles, or the apparently meaningless patterns that form three dimensional images when we let our focus change. How do we know what we're looking at? Now, if I only had a handy way of bringing that perspective to the I Corinthians lesson for this Sunday....

Posted by: Marshall Scott | Jan 13, 2006 12:43:44 PM

Nathan tests his preconceived notions about people from Nazareth by getting to know Jesus personally. When his notions are disproved and he sees that Jesus is filled with God's truth he is faced with a choice. Reject Jesus and remain in his prejudice that is now proven to be false or receive the notion that he was wrong and be open to growth in a new way. Nathan chooses the second and goes headlong into his confession of faith based on revelation of the divine. Jesus however says that is not the end of it, it is only the beginning.

Posted by: Rev. Laurie | Jan 14, 2006 10:41:10 AM

Although it doesn't detract from the point of your sermon/ reflection, I have to say that I don't think that those Implicit Association Tests are very reliable; I think they're rather crude. I'm white, and the test said that I showed a preference for dark-skinned, specifically African-American faces; but I really don't think that's true at all in real life.

Posted by: Abby | Jan 14, 2006 1:19:26 PM

Letting Go...and change. Sanctification. To be released from beliefs and prejudices that keep us from living holy. Beautiful.

Peace

Posted by: MrJ | Jan 16, 2006 5:52:08 PM

i was wandering through blogs and found one by luck from my own town. i see from your cv that you host a happy hour. is this still going on - can i join? do you know of a place in frederick that has weekday evening worship?

Posted by: kyle foley | Jan 19, 2006 8:18:34 AM

I apprecuciate your insight. This is the first time I've read your blog and guarantee I'll be back

Posted by: Sue | Jan 12, 2009 11:54:17 AM

Post a comment






 
Dylan's lectionary blog: Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

« First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord, Year B | Main | Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B »

Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Printer-friendly version

John 1:43-51
- link to NRSV text

Have you ever taken one of the Implicit Association Tests (IATs)? These tests have been used for psychological research on people's implicit assumptions about others in terms of a variety of categories -- age, race, sexual orientation, skin tone, religion, and others, and there's evidence that they can be very effective in testing what attitudes and prejudices people have, and there's often a marked contrast between that and what people are willing to report or even what they're aware of about themselves. An Implicit Association Test takes 10 minutes of less to complete, and the results are striking -- I encourage you to check them out.

The results are often rather jarring, though. Most of us want to think of ourselves as open-minded and unprejudiced, but when we're put to the test in a way that gets beyond what we think we ought to think, nearly all of us are prejudiced in ways that reinforce and perpetuate injustice -- even kinds of injustice that we spend a lot of energy consciously trying to rectify. I've done a lot of work on my own racism, and the test on attitudes toward White and African Americans still shows that I affiliate good qualities far more strongly with white faces than with black faces. I'm a woman, a professional, and a feminist, but I still have at least a moderate association of maleness with career and femaleness with family compared to the other way around. The list goes on. I'm prejudiced, and mostly privileging those whom our society privileges -- even in terms of categories where I belong to the less privileged class.

That can be hard to admit. In the circles in which I generally move, “open-minded” is considered a compliment and “prejudiced” an insult, and on the whole, I think this is as it should be. There are some things, though, about how our minds work that make complete open-mindedness impossible and not entirely desirable. If you place a wax bowl on a pedestal in your microwave and zap it for a while, it'll become so open that it won't hold anything. Our minds work in part by organizing information into categories, by keeping things distinct in ways that are artificial but at least occasionally helpful.

People in Jesus' culture weren't so embarrassed about some of the things we consider “prejudice,” though, and this week's gospel story is an excellent case in point. Nathaniel is convinced that if he knows which village Jesus came from, he'll know as much about Jesus as he needs to know -- much as he would if he knew who Jesus' father was. Furthermore, Nathan is fine with that cutting both ways. He asks Jesus literally, “from where do you know me (to be)?” -- NOT meaning, as the NRSV misleadingly suggests “where did you have a chance to get to know me?” or “where have we interacted before?” but rather something more like “what do you believe to be my hometown?” Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree,” in words reminiscent of Old Testament passages in which this image stands for one's home (props to Malina and Rohrbaugh on this). In other words, Jesus saw Nathaniel at home, and therefore knows everything he needs to know about him. His culture wasn't individualistic or introspective as ours is, so people would have perceived this manner of thinking about who's trustworthy as being perfectly reasonable. Indeed, the Gospel of John itself takes up this style of assessing people; the first thing it tells us about Philip is that he is from Bethesda, the city of Andrew and Peter, and I think it's fair to say that the writer seems to think that this will tell readers what they need to know about Philip. This is a particularly reasonable assumption to make since Philip behaves as Andrew and Peter do.

It's still very fortunate (a blessing, even) that the people in this story did not stick to what was reasonable.

Nathaniel notes that Jesus comes from Nazareth, which indicates that he's got no messianic credentials (and the Gospel According to John says nothing to suggest that the author sees Jesus as coming from anywhere other than Nazareth) -- but when invited to “come and see,” Nathaniel goes anyway, and sees that Jesus is a teacher, the Son of God, and the King of Israel.

That underscores for me what the crucial question is about prejudice: not “should we have prejudices?” (because we do and we can't help it even if it was going to be to our advantage to do so), but “what do we do when confronted with something or someone not matching our prior expectations?”

When Nathaniel is confronted with the phenomenon that Philip believes a person from Nazareth to be the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, he is willing to come and see. His trust for Philip overcomes his prejudice at least enough for him to go to Jesus to investigate, to question him, and to listen to the answers. That's important.

And then what Nathaniel hears doesn't fit with his prior assumption that nothing good can come from Nazareth, and Nathaniel makes another important decision: He revises his assumption. He's willing to tweak or even discard his categories to accommodate new information, a truth that doesn't fit prejudice, so he can confess the truth he now knows about Jesus.

That just might be even more important, because as crucial as this turning-point is for Nathaniel, he's going to be asked to do some even more radical revision in the days to come. He's confessed that Jesus is a blessed teacher, the Son of God, and the King of Israel, but Jesus is not going to behave as those categories would suggest. Jesus associates with those whom the authorities deem outsiders rejected by God and right-thinking Israelites. He's going to confront the power of Rome, but not to seek his own crown; he will die the death of a slave rather than take a place at the head of an army. If Nathaniel is going to continue to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, eventually that will mean more than revising his expectations about Jesus ...

It will mean revising his expectations for God.

Nathaniel will have to let go of the idea that God's blessing of Israel hinges on Israel's remaining distinct from the nations to follow a mission that invites all nations to join the people of Israel in God's kingdom. He will have to let go of the idea that God's justice is about punishing the unrighteous to follow the Son of God who blesses and forgives his persecutors. And he'll have to let go of more than ideas: he'll be leaving behind his village, his family, everything upon which he formerly found honor to follow one whom the world shamed but God exalted. He'll lose his life as he knew it, and find abundant life beyond all expectation.

Thanks be to God!

January 11, 2006 in Call Narratives, Epiphany, John, Year B | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c234653ef00d834a0791969e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B:

Comments

Post a comment