Since April 2020, I have been jointly hosting a shared Lectio group on Tuesday evenings. The following are my reflections only, during the prayer session and as I wrote them up. Please see my separate commentary and leaflet for more information about shared Lectio.
Gospel reading: John 1.47-51
Words: heaven opened then coming towards
First: the contrast of the earthiness of the fig tree and the transcendence of heaven. The earthiness of the fig tree of Nathanael’s home, under which he has grown up and sheltered since his youth, rooted in the soil and producing its fruit in due season. The transcendence of heaven opening and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Or perhaps the earthiness and transcendence are as one, ref William Blake’s tree full of angels. So Nathanael will see angels ascending and descending on the figure of Jesus on the tree of crucifixion.
For now, Nathanael went towards Jesus, was drawn to approach him despite himself. And Jesus saw him, knew him through and through, and could see no deceit in him.
How wonderful it would be to have no deceit in me!
I have plenty of nooks and crannies, and Jesus sees into these too. But Nathanael is completely transparent, completely open to Jesus and to being seen. And because he is completely open, he is able to receive and see Jesus in return: ‘[Y]ou are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ he exclaims, well before Peter’s confession of the Christ (see Matthew 16.13-20, Mark 8.27-30, Luke 9.18-20).
Nathanael recognises Jesus as God and King right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, framing or book ending it together with Thomas’ confession in John 20. There are interesting similarities and divergences.
Compare Jesus’ words to Nathanael: ‘Do you believe because I saw you?’ with his words to Thomas: ’Have you believed because you have seen me?’ Nathanael believed because Jesus saw him. Thomas believed because he saw Jesus.
Jesus has a slightly stinging follow-up for Thomas: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ but he promises Nathanael: ‘You will see greater things than these.’
Does this mean that Nathanael is one of the blessed? He is certainly promised much… but then he simply disappears from John’s Gospel and only reappears in passing in Chapter 21. He doesn’t appear at all in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts, unless he is the same person as Bartholomew, who in any case only appears in lists.
I find myself wondering when and where Nathanael would have seen these ‘greater things’? Would it have been…
- during Jesus’ earthly ministry?
- in the crucifixion of Jesus and his death?
- in the resurrection appearances?
- at his own death?
- or perhaps whenever he saw a fig tree?
Gospel reading: Luke 8.19-21
This passage is a parallel to the one in Matthew from two months ago. Then, my word was Someone, and I wrote an extended reflection on the importance of the unnamed and unsung bit parts in Bible stories.
But Someone doesn’t appear at all in Luke. Someone’s action in telling Jesus that his mother and brothers were standing outside is reduced to the passive voice: “he was told”.
Matthew gave Someone no name and no role, but Luke takes away even more. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25.29).
Still, even though I may have “passed out of mind like one who is dead” (Psalm 31.12a), I have remaining to me the wanting to see Jesus. No-one can take that desire from me.
Gospel reading: Luke 7.11-17
Words: This word
So many words stood out on reading the text each time:
- rise, has risen and Resurrection
- Do not weep, with its resonance of Ecclesiastes 3.4, so… this is not a time to weep, but a time to laugh
- stood still, with the resonance of Exodus 14.13-14 and Moses’ words to the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still”, or Joshua 10.12-14 when “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped”
- touched, gave him, and using the sense of touch
All were summed up in “this word”, not just any word, but this word.
The two sayings – ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ – are of good news spreading widely, when it is so often bad news that travels fast.
The whole passage, the whole Gospel is ‘this word’ that has spread throughout the world, but still needs to be spread, in hidden ways of prayer overflowing in day-by-day compassionate acts.
Gospel reading: Luke 6.12–19
Words: great crowd of his disciples
Jesus had just chosen the Twelve, but these weren’t all of his disciples. There were many more who sat at his feet and learned from him as Teacher or Rabbi. We just don’t know their names or who they were.
Then I was struck by all the other great numbers: “a great multitude”, “from all Judea” and many other places, “all in the crowd”, “all of them”.
Some of the crowd “had come to hear him”, some had come “to be healed of their diseases”. And Jesus healed not just the latter but “all of them”, whether they knew they needed curing or not: physically, mentally, spiritually, whatever they needed.
Last week I reflected on Jesus being the perfect healer. This week is about quantity as well as quality.
I have a clear memory of Kathy Galloway, standing at the head of the table on a Thursday night in Iona Abbey. At the point of invitation to communion her voice rang out again and again: “All are welcome”.
God is generous, lavish with love and mercy. God teaches all. God heals all. All are welcome.
Gospel reading: Luke 4.31–37
Words: without having done him any harm
The unclean demon’s intention was to cause the man harm, throwing him down before the other people in the synagogue. But when Jesus rebuked it/him/them, the demon came out while the man was preserved from harm.
Sometimes with the healing miracles I wonder whether the person healed had actually benefited. Had the lame man lost his livelihood as a beggar? Was the man born blind suddenly overwhelmed with light and colour and images that he couldn’t process and didn’t understand?
But that is my doubt, scepticism, cynicism, pessimism, my own weakness coming out. O Jesus, increase my faith!
Because Jesus is the perfect healer. More perfect than the most steady-handed surgeon cutting a tumour away from healthy tissue without harming it in any way. More perfect than the most skilled psychiatrist guiding a patient through letting go of their deepest neurosis. More perfect than the bravest of fools, whispering in the ear of a megalomaniac ruler that they are but mortal. He sees the true need for healing, of body, mind or spirit.
The perfect healer…
…as we need healing – because perhaps we do need that ‘thorn in the flesh’? (2 Cor 12.1-10)
…and as we let him heal – and we don’t cry ‘Let us alone!’ (v34)