Archives for January 2015

Bible Study: Last Sunday After Epiphany (B)

February 15, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” (Mark 9:2-5)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

2 Kings 2:1-12

There are two stories in this beautiful passage from Second Kings. One is the dramatic story of Elijah’s ascent to heaven, rich with imagery of God in the whirlwind, of chariots of fire and waters parting. It is a tale of prophets that connects Elijah with Moses and precipitates speculation about the nature of Elijah and his eventual return. The story within the story is Elisha’s grief: his desire to accompany Elijah on his final journey, even though he knows how the journey will end. Elisha’s determination to stay in the moment with his beloved teacher, against the counsel of the company of prophets who insist that the moment is passing, and his desire to inherit a double share of his teacher’s spirit are both touching and also prophetic. The ecstatic vision of the chariot of fire and the whirlwind subside; the passage ends with Elisha losing sight of Elijah and tearing his clothes in grief.

Many of us have taken or will take this final journey with a loved parent or mentor, or know someone who has. In what ways is the story of Elisha’s companioning Elijah to his ascent to heaven like a scene from hospice care? Consider the characters and their reaction to the situation. Elijah, Elisha, the company of prophets, God in the whirlwind, all have a part to play in the drama.

The prophet Elijah has been associated with the Messiah in both Jewish and Christian traditions. How does the concept of Messiah differ between Jews and Christians? How does Elijah relate to your conception of the Messiah?

Psalm 50:1-6

In these lines from Psalm 50, we hear an image of God as creator and judge. There is a way of thinking about God called “apophatic theology.” Sometimes called “negative theology,” this thinking holds that all of our names for God are inadequate. Since we can never name the unknowable and unnamable, the only way to describe God is by what God is not. Images or names such as Lord, Judge, Shepherd, Comforter or Slayer of the Wicked are all inadequate, only part of the vast greatness of God. The consuming flame and the raging storm in this passage are reminiscent of God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3. These images, along with the whirlwind in today’s passage from Second Kings, are considered apophatic images of God.

With your Bible study group, make a list of all of the names and images of God that you can think of from scripture. Add as many names and images as you can from your experience or imagination. In what ways do these names describe God? In what ways do they fail to describe God? Which of your images are concrete (called “cataphatic” in theological terminology)? Which of your images are apophatic?

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul is defending his authority as an apostle and leader of the church in Corinth against a new group of missionaries who have led some church members to reject Paul’s leadership and message. When Paul describes the gospel as “veiled,” he is referring to the veil that covered Moses’ radiant face when he brought the covenant from God to the people of Israel in Exodus 34:33. Earlier in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul has spoken of his boldness as a proclaimer of God’s word, contrasting himself with Moses who veiled his face. Paul asserts his strong message and style of leadership as a true apostle of Jesus Christ. Using images of light, Paul is direct and unequivocal in his assertion that the glory of God shines through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In what ways is the image of light as a metaphor for God’s teaching like the images of the whirlwind, the consuming flame and the raging storm in today’s lesson from 2 Kings and Psalm 50?

Does Paul connect Jesus with Moses and Elijah? How? Does he connect himself with the line of prophets?

What “god of this world” might blind us from seeing the Good News of Jesus Christ as preached by the apostle Paul?

Mark 9:2-9

In the story of the Transfiguration, Mark describes a mystical experience. Imagine the terror of Peter, James and John as they try to make sense of an experience that is unknowable and unexplainable. Mark clearly links Jesus with Moses and Elijah, those prophets who stand in God’s presence and can communicate God’s word. It is interesting to note that the Gospel of Mark does not include an appearance of Jesus after the tomb is discovered to be empty, so that some scholars consider the Transfiguration to be a resurrection appearance. The voice of God from the cloud and the injunction to “Tell No One” about what they have seen echoes the Elijah’s Ascent-to-Heaven passage from Second Kings that we heard earlier today. God’s faithfulness is a theme of the story; God has never left God’s people without a prophet to lead them, without help or hope.

Have you ever had a mystical experience when you felt that you were in God’s presence? Can you describe the experience? Were you afraid? Did you think of any biblical stories, prophets or images? Or was your experience beyond description?

One interpretation of the Transfiguration is that it is a glimpse of the end time, a promise of a kind of life that we cannot imagine, that is not visible to our earth-bound eyes. How do you imagine the Kingdom of God? What glimpses have you had of the ways in which the Kingdom of God is not comparable to anything in our human experience? What characteristics of the Kingdom of God can translate to earthly life? How?

The experience of the Transfiguration reminds the disciples of the transcendent glory of God. The voice from the cloud bids the disciples to listen to God’s beloved Son, Jesus. How might the apostle Paul have preached on this passage? How does it speak to you?

How does this passage mark a turning point from the liturgical season of Epiphany, with its emphasis on miracles and the Good News of God’s kingdom, and the season of Lent, with its emphasis on Jesus’ journey to suffering and the cross?

Bible Study: 5 Epiphany (B)

February 8, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:30-31)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31

This passage is from Second Isaiah, written toward the end of the Babylonian exile. The prophet promises the people of Israel that deliverance from exile in Babylon is coming soon. The message is of consolation and the greatness of God the king and creator, a powerful God who is in control of history and events. The passage is lyrical, a series of rhetorical questions and images that show the power and wisdom of God the creator. Verses 21-24 describe a powerful maker of the world and its people who also controls their history. Verses 27-31 reassure God’s people that God is aware of their situation and will renew the strength of those who wait faithfully.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Try setting some of the passage to music, as G.F. Handel has famously done for the preceding passage Isaiah 40:1-11. Or try a dramatic reading with several people. Enjoy the language and the message of renewal.

Does God control history? Yes? No? To some extent? How? The incarnational theologians say that God entered history by becoming incarnate in Jesus. How does that idea relate to this passage from Isaiah?

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

Psalm 147 is a hymn of praise incorporating themes and motifs from Isaiah 40. The emphasis is on God the creator. Praise of God’s power and wisdom is joined with praise of God’s care for the lowly. God’s people are called to sing and make music in praise of God, who loves and cares for creation. We are reminded that God and God’s people are in relationship. The joyful expression of faith brings God delight.

Look for motifs from today’s passage from Isaiah in the psalm. Notice the difference in voice. The passage from Isaiah is spoken from the point of view of a teacher and prophet; the psalm is the voice of the faithful listeners, the people of Israel. Try writing a dialogue or responsive reading based on the two passages.

Write a psalm of praise using your own images of care for creation. You might read your psalm as the Prayers of the People or as a blessing during a worship or prayer service, or for an opening or closing for your Bible study meeting.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

The passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians expresses Paul’s thoughts on evangelism and on being paid by the church community. Today’s verses and the ones preceding them make it clear that the apostles in the early church expected to be supported by the community (v. 14). When Paul speaks of placing an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ in verse 12, he is worried that the financial burden of his support might prevent some from joining the church community. Paul has two motivations for preaching the gospel – his own free will and commission by God. For a true servant of God, doing God’s will by proclaiming the gospel is its own reward. Paul writes of being all things to all people, speaking to different groups in terms they can understand, so that he can convert more people, win more souls to become members of the community. Thus he proclaims the gospel for the glory of God and to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.

What are the implications of lines 19-23 for preaching and evangelism in Paul’s time? In our time and place? What does evangelism mean to you?

Do you belong to a church community that supports its clerical leader financially? Does this affect the relationship between the proclaimer of the gospel and the community? Does it affect the way the gospel is proclaimed? Are there other models for support of the clergy? Is it possible or practical to proclaim the gospel with authority without material reward?

Mark 1:29-39

At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been the talk of the town. News of his healing and exorcism has spread from Capernaum throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. He is in great demand, having healed the mother-in-law of his friends Simon and Andrew, and has cured many diseases and cast out many demons for the people who have gathered to ask for his help.

Remember that when Jesus and his companions arrived at the synagogue in Capernaum in last week’s reading, Jesus taught with authority, proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom on earth, before he got sidetracked into healing and exorcism. The next morning, after praying by himself, Jesus’ sense of purpose is renewed. When the disciples come to tell him that everyone is looking for him, he tells them that it is time to move on to the neighboring towns to proclaim the message “for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus’ mission is to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God.

What is the relationship between proclaiming the message and casting out demons? Is one more important than the other? Should Jesus stay in Capernaum and continue to heal and exorcise? Or is that a distraction from his mission? Can you think of a contemporary scenario similar to Jesus’ dilemma?

What is Jesus’ mission? Refer to Mark 1:1, Matthew 4:23-25 and Luke 4:42-44. Consider the irony that Mark’s readers and we know Jesus’ significance while his disciples do not. How does knowing his identity change your response to his decision to move on from healing in Capernaum to proclaim his message?

Bible Study: 4 Epiphany (B)

February 1, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:23-26)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

This passage defines the nature of a true prophet. A prophet is a gift from God. A true prophet is obliged to speak God’s truth – good news or bad – and must be heard and heeded by the people of God. A true prophet may not speak in the name of other gods, nor speak in God’s name what God has not commanded. In this sermon to the people of Israel, Moses reports God’s promise to raise up for them a prophet like him from among their own people. Christians have long interpreted Jesus to be this prophet – the “one like me from among their own people” – as is evidenced in the Gospel of Matthew’s strong identification of Jesus with Moses. In Acts 3: 22-23 ff, Peter reminds the congregation in Jerusalem of this promise, specifically naming Jesus as the appointed prophet and Messiah. He also reminds the congregation of their roots as people of Israel: “You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors” (Acts 3: 25).

In the name of what other gods might a false prophet speak? How can we distinguish between God’s commands and what God has not commanded?

Can you think of any prophets in our times? Someone you know or someone you’ve encountered in books, the news, social media?

How does the description of a true versus false prophet apply to the qualifications and trustworthiness of our community and religious leaders?

Psalm 111

Imagine this psalm as a response to the excerpt from Moses’ sermon that we read in today’s passage from Deuteronomy. The gathered people respond as a congregation with thanks and praise to God. In the opening verses, the people are thankful for God’s work and deeds, and for the gift of studying God’s word. On this day, they are especially thankful for God’s covenant with them, for the justice and steadfastness of God’s commandments, and for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Finally, they are ever mindful of the eternity of God. God’s righteousness and praise endure forever.

How does reading and meditating on this psalm connect worshipers here and now with the worshipers who might have heard Moses speaking in ancient times?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

This passage from First Corinthians offers a fascinating glimpse into Paul’s first-century Christian community. The earliest Christians were Jewish followers of Jesus. In most cases, they followed the Jewish Law. It was the Jewish custom to refrain from eating the meat that was sold in the marketplace, because of the possibility that it had been used in pagan sacrifice. Paul’s mission was to bring the Good News of Christ to the gentiles. This is not the only time in his letters when he addresses whether or not a gentile (or pagan or Greek) must conform to Jewish practices in order to be a part of the community of followers of Jesus. Paul says those who possess the knowledge of Christ’s salvation understand that food has no bearing on one’s relationship to God. However, it is best not to cause discomfort to those who are offended by eating food sacrificed to idols. So do not sin against Christ by wounding the consciences of others. Later in the letter (1 Corinthians 10:32) Paul is quite specific in his instruction to his mixed community of Jews and gentiles: Do not offend the Jewish believers by what you eat.

What does this passage say to you about dietary laws, respect and religious tolerance? Are there specific examples from your campus community, workplace or multi-faith community that apply to this discussion?

Do you think Paul is advocating an inclusive tolerance within the Christian community at Corinth? Why or why not? What are the implications for multicultural intra- and inter-religious relations today?

Mark 1:21-28

Today’s passage from Mark returns to the question raised in Deuteronomy 18:15-20: How can we recognize a true prophet? While the people gathered in the synagogue in Capernaum react with surprise and wonder to Jesus’ teaching, the unclean spirit recognizes him immediately: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The title Holy One of God is a reference to the prophet and healer Elisha (2 Kings 4:9). True to form as one who works and teaches in the tradition of the most honored prophets of the Jewish people, Jesus has authority to direct the power of God’s kingdom against the power of evil. “Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus commands, and the spirit obeys. While the scribes depend on their knowledge of Torah and tradition for their authority, Jesus preaches and heals with the authority of one sent by God. As his fame spread throughout Galilee, might the people have wondered: Is this the prophet from among their own that God promised in his covenant with the people of Israel?

Imagine a conversation between two witnesses to this day’s events in the synagogue. One is struck with awe and wonder: Surely this is the prophet promised by God in Deuteronomy! The other is a skeptic and warns against being taken in by folk healers and false prophets. Try role-playing or a debate between these two points of view.

What is the relationship between authority in teaching and the power to exorcise? Why do you think the evangelist Mark chose to introduce the public ministry of Jesus with stories of healing and exorcism?

Try bringing this healing story into the 21st century. What demons might a new prophet need to cast out? How might the Good News of the Kingdom of God have power over such demons?

Bible Study: 3 Epiphany (B)

January 25, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’” (Mark 1:16-17)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The Hebrew prophet Jonah has been sent by God to foretell the destruction of the city of Nineveh. Jonah is reluctant, and tries to escape God’s call. He boards a ship headed in the opposite direction; God sends a storm; the sailors throw Jonah overboard into the sea where he is swallowed by a great fish. In the belly of the fish, Jonah prays; and in his mercy, God delivers him from the great fish and sets him on dry land. Then Jonah answers God’s call and goes to Nineveh. The miracle is that the reluctant prophet is remarkably effective; as a result of his warning, the people repent and God forgives them.

The message of the book of Jonah is uplifting: God is willing to forgive those who repent. The importance of hearing prophets, of repentance and right action is affirmed: We can change God’s mind and save ourselves from calamity. Salvation is possible by our own intention and effort, with God’s grace. Jonah has answered God’s call and the results surprise him.

Can you think of a time when you have turned away from God’s call? Questioned God’s purpose for you? How did the outcome surprise you?

How does the story of the prophet Jonah challenge your assumptions about the God of the Hebrew Bible?

Psalm 62:6-14

This psalm might be called the Song of Jonah, as Jonah rejoices in his renewed trust in God and sense of purpose after he has been delivered from the great fish. The psalmist begins with personal experience; he affirms his trust in God. Then the psalmist’s voice turns to exhortation, urging the listeners to join in and find their safety in God. The psalmist offers a contrast, listing those temptations that interfere with trust in God. The message is that in God alone can we put our trust. The passage ends with a transition to a prayer, addressing God: “Steadfast love is yours.” It is a strong and poetic affirmation of faith.

How does the selection from Psalm 62 look back to the story of Jonah before our Hebrew Bible passage for today? How does the selection look forward to the events of today’s passage? Look for specific passages from the text to guide your answer.

How does the notion of salvation in this selection contrast with the notion of salvation in the passage from Jonah in today’s Hebrew Bible reading? Where do you stand on the issue of salvation by works versus salvation by grace?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

This poignant passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is a prophecy in the tradition of the Hebrew Bible. Paul calls his readers to right behavior in the face of crisis: Time is growing short; the present form of the world is passing away. For Paul, he and his communities are living in an eschatological era that has been ushered in by Christ’s sacrifice. This passage falls in the middle of a series of directives concerning marriage in the end times. From how those who are married ought to behave – as if they have no wives – he broadens his instructions to those who mourn, those who rejoice, and especially those who deal with the world of possessions. He seems to forecast that the world will be turned upside down, and it is urgent for those who have focused on the things of the world to repent.

Do you find God’s call more urgent in times of crisis? How does your notion of salvation change under stressful, demanding circumstances? How does your notion of Godly behavior change under such circumstances?

What is your reaction to Paul’s injunction that those who mourn should be as if they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as if they were not rejoicing?

How does living as Paul directs in this passage – as if circumstances were not as they are – relate to your sense of call or vocation?

Mark 1:14-20

Jesus’ words in the first chapter of Mark, verse 15 – the time of the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news – echo Paul’s injunctions that we heard in today passage from First Corinthians. More rightly stated, Paul’s words echo those of Jesus, which echo the words of John the Baptist and the Hebrew prophets.

In all today’s readings, we have been urged to repent and believe in the Good News. Simon, Andrew, James and John react to God’s urgent call in the opposite way from Jonah in the Hebrew Bible lesson today. While Jonah responds to God’s call by running away to sea, these four fishermen are compelled by Jesus’ compelling charisma to leave their nets and their boats behind and follow wherever he leads them. Their trust in Jesus as God’s prophet is unconditional. This passage affirms the Good News that God calls each and every one of us to the work of God’s Kingdom, even if the end of the journey – indeed, the next step – is uncertain.

It can be difficult to believe in good news and to respond with trust. When have you responded to good news as Jonah did, by running away? When have you responded as the disciples did, by dropping everything and embracing the news? How did your response affect the outcome?

Look back to the psalm for today, and read it as if you are hearing the four fishermen praying after their encounter with Jesus. Return to the notions of salvation and repentance. Does the Good News of Mark’s gospel change your conversation about salvation by grace and salvation by works?

Bible Study: 2 Epiphany (B)

January 18, 2015

Susan ButterworthEpiscopal Divinity School

“And Jesus said to Nathanael, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’” (John 1:51)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

This first half of this Sunday’s passage, the story of God’s call to Samuel, is often left to stand alone. It is made even deeper and more meaningful when read in conjunction with the second half, in which God speaks concerning the punishment of the house of Eli. Eli was the high priest in the temple of Shiloh. The boy Samuel had been promised to God by his mother Hannah, and is an acolyte to Eli. The sons of Eli were behaving badly, taking the best of the meat that was brought for sacrifice for themselves, and committing adultery with the women who serve in the temple. Eli knows this, but has been unable to stop their behavior. As the passage tells us, the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. God calls Samuel, but the boy doesn’t realize who is calling him. Eli is wise and humble and instructs Samuel to listen to God. Further, Eli insists that Samuel tell him what God has said, even though it is a curse against his line.

There are two stories here. One is the story of God’s call to the boy Samuel to be a prophet. The other is the story of Eli, who instructs Samuel to listen to God and to tell the truth about what God has told him, even though it is bad news. The result is that Samuel becomes a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. There are two parts to a call. One is listening. The other is truthfully responding to God’s call.

What is the role of a mentor? Think about wise teachers, parents or substitute parents whom you have known. How have they helped you to recognize and speak the truth?

Think about Eli’s role as a parent of sons who have behaved so badly that God curses their line. Has Eli failed as a parent? Should he have been able to control his sons? Does his lenience with his sons preclude his ability to teach others?

God’s call is not only for clergy. It’s important to think about how laypeople are called to serve. How have you been called? What is your response to God’s call?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

These verses of Psalm 139 are about being known intimately by God. This psalm is a prayer of radical gratitude and surrender. It is a prayer of praise to a God who is creator of all that is, and it is especially a prayer of a profound personal relationship with God. These lines are a beautiful response to God’s call, words that Samuel might have spoken in response to his experience of being called in the Hebrew Bible passage for today. Like the story of Samuel’s call by God, these beautiful lines are often separated from the rest of the psalm. The lines following today’s lectionary selection speak of killing and hating. The psalm is more than a song of praise; it is a prayer that offers comfort in the face of evil, fear and loneliness. We are never separated from God, no matter what the circumstances.

Is it comforting or frightening to be so intimately known by someone that your thoughts are known even before you think them, someone who is acquainted with all your ways? Do you think that God judges your unspoken thoughts? What would happen if you spoke all your thoughts aloud to someone you trust?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

This passage from First Corinthians is reminiscent of today’s passage from Psalm 139. The message is one of total unity with God: Anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

Paul brings the Hebrew message of unity with God to a Christian community when he says, “for you were bought with a price,” referring to the sacrifice of Christ. Paul’s purpose is to tend to his community’s health, to be a pastor to them, to equip them with the theology that they need to live in community. The message of Epiphany, the revelation of God’s coming, takes on a note of salvation in Paul’s theology. God raised his son Jesus Christ and will also raise us. It is Christ who has freed us. Paul expands the horizon of the church to think about the nature of freedom and freedom’s relationship to our life in community. Certainly we are free, but we must be accountable to others.

Meditate for a few minutes on these words: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” With your Bible study or scripture discussion group, begin a list on chart paper of some things that may be lawful but not beneficial. Which of these things are concrete and which are abstract? What is the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in the context of this passage? What is the relationship between the individual and the community?

How does this passage from First Corinthians relate to today’s theme of God’s call to us?

John 1:43-51

“Follow me.” “Come and see.” These are words of invitation. This is a passage about being called to discipleship. It is also about seeing and being seen. Philip identifies Jesus as both the promised deliverer about whom Moses and the prophets wrote and also as the son of Joseph from Nazareth. Nathanael’s question – Can anything good come out of Nazareth? – might be read as asking whether a powerful deliverer could rise from such humble beginnings. Philip answers, “Come and see,” as if to say, “See for yourself.”

Indeed, Jesus seems to enjoy Nathanael’s candid reaction to his humble origins. Jesus recognizes Nathanael as a man in whom there is no deceit. Nathanael’s response is to recognize Jesus as a prophet and name him: Rabbi! Son of God! King of Israel!

When Jesus says, “You will see [and do] greater works than these,” the words are not only addressed to Nathanael but also to all of us who hear and read these words. We are all invited to discipleship. In our response to the call we both see and are seen. This is the nature of being called. And indeed, like Samuel and like Nathanael, we are called to see even greater things. The ultimate fulfillment of the call to discipleship will be the revelation of the Kingdom of God.

In this passage, the message of Jesus is passed from person to person. Jesus finds Philip. Philip finds Nathanael. The Christian message is experiential. Think about other passages in the Bible where people experience Jesus’ presence and are drawn to his message about the Kingdom of God. Then think about people in your own life who have been drawn to the Christian message through personal experience passed from person to person.

Jesus says to Nathanael, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Some scholars suggest that this would have been the place where Torah was discussed. Perhaps Nathanael had been listening to some teachers talking about the law and the prophets. Perhaps Nathanael was ready and waiting for the teacher who would open his heart, and that teacher was Jesus. Think about times when you have been under the fig tree, metaphorically. How has waiting and listening opened you to discipleship?