The Gospel Is Made for Cynics – John 1:43-51
John 1:43-51 could be titled: “Philip the Enthusiast Meets Nathanael the Cynic”. The passage starts off with Christ’s calling Philip to follow him. Now, we don’t know much about this call. John only tells us that Philip responded in faith and followed. But then look at what Philip did next. He found his friend Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth.” Although the gospel is pretty sparse on details, I think we can infer a couple of things: 1) Philip knew Nathanael well enough to know about his interest in the coming of the Messiah; 2) Philip was enthusiastic about sharing his encounter with Christ. That’s how the gospel spreads – one person recommending it to another: face to face, person to person, in the context of a relationship.Nathanael, however, comes back with a cynical reply, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Many people make this out to be a reflection on Nazareth because Nazareth had the reputation of being full of fools. That may be the case, but I believe there was more going on here than that. I believe Nathanael had become a cynic.But Nathanael’s caustic response couldn’t dampen Philip’s enthusiasm. Instead, he invites Nathanael to come and see for himself. Now we don’t know exactly what Nathanael expected. He was probably expecting a sales pitch. Something like: “This is why you should follow me. I’ll tell you what I can do for you, and then there are my qualifications: Four out of five experts agree that I am the Messiah.” But Nathanael didn’t get pitched. Instead, Jesus greets Nathanael by speaking directly to what was most on his heart. Jesus immediately broke through the cynicism to reach the yearning that Nathanael felt most. And Nathanael responded with simple faith and joy. He told Jesus, “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” His quick switch from cynicism to faith shows the depths to which Christ had touched him. Jesus gets past our walls and defenses to touch us where we most need it. Jesus spoke to Nathanael’s inner yearning in a way that only he could, and Nathanael responded. But that’s not unique. Although we live in a cynical world, the power of Jesus Christ can break through the hardened hearts of even the most cynical among us. Our neighbors, our friends, or the stranger behind us in line at the grocery store; anyone may be the next Nathanael. But we’ll never know unless we offer them the chance to know Jesus Christ. This is our chance to change their world by sharing the Good News, because the Gospel is made for cynics.