John 1:43-end 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Second Sunday of Epiphany
Time, place, space. Time is a mystery. And when time and place connect in God’s plan, they become a space of meaning. What’s all that about?
You will remember the story of Jacob and Esau. Basically, the story of Jacob, as he is the founder of the people of Israel. We can follow the events of his life in Genesis 25 to 28. After Jacob has tricked his older twin Esau out of his birth right, he finds himself on the run from his brother’s wrath and having a dream. In this dream, he sees a ladder with its foot on the ground and the top reaching into heaven, and angels going up and down on it. The Lord himself speaks to him, and says that he will come back to his land in peace and prosperity.
In the reading from John’s Gospel today, we hear this story echoed in Jesus’ words to Nathanael, when Jesus says to him and the others that they will see ‘heaven opened and God’s angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’. Now that may sound a bit cryptic, mightn’t it? What kind of image is Jesus giving his disciples, about his mission, his ministry, and himself?
Jacob, before he became known as Israel, was a deceiver. Nathanael, the one whom Jesus is calling in this particular part of John chapter one, is recommended by Jesus as ‘a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit’. It amazes Nathanael, who is struck by these words as well as the notion that Jesus seemed to know him before he met him, and who responds with an acclamation, that Jesus must be the Son of God and the King of Israel. It seems to amuse Jesus, as we can make out from what he says following.
What we know about the story of Jacob is that the whole point of what we call ‘Jacob’s ladder’ was that it showed that God was with him. Not just as a vague sense of his presence along the way, but right there, at that particular place. God was revealed and identified in that moment, and he would be there with Jacob later on too. God was real, and he was with Jacob, and he was there. Jacob called the place ‘Bethel’, God’s house.
When Jesus calls his disciples, he lifts part of the veil on his identity to them, and confirms the fact that he is the new ‘ladder’ between heaven and earth; the Messiah, who fulfils the prophecy of the Son of Man, who is the One who makes God known. When Jesus calls, therefore, he is the Christ. He brings heaven to earth, becoming the source of divine purpose for humanity. When Jesus calls us, he makes time and place become the space of true peace. He becomes the new Temple, God’s true house. Jesus, being the Word made flesh, is to connect human life to God through him, like a ladder between earth and heaven that we can climb. All of his mission and ministry is to reveal that purpose that God himself has ordained and that gives us a destiny and a hope of fulfilment and joy.
We may not always have heard God speak to us directly; young Samuel did not at first understand it was the Lord speaking to him. But once we do know, and once our ears are tuned to God’s voice, we also can learn to reply: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’. That’s when we see time and place become a space of divine purpose and peace. When we see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Amen.