The Other Side of the "Us" Line

So Jesus is gathering his first disciples. St. Nathanael, looking skeptical Andrew hears John the Baptist point out the Christ and rushes off to find his brother Peter. Then Jesus calls Philip, who is on board and excitedly goes to his friend Nathanael, telling him he's found the one they've been waiting for since Moses.

"It's Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

"Nazareth?" cuts in Nathanael, skeptical. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"

The Bible doesn't explain how deep-seeded Nathanael's prejudice goes. Is he joking or is he bigoted? What it does say is that Philip, Andrew and Peter--who were called by Jesus just before this--were all from the town of Bethsaida, which was almost 20 miles from Nazareth. Later we find out that Nathanael is from Cana, just the next town over from Jesus' hometown. Could it be that Nathanael had had a few negative run-ins with "those Nazarenes"? Maybe he's been cheated out of a couple business deals, or maybe he just doesn't like the way they talk. Then again, perhaps he hasn't had many dealings with them. His assumptions could be inherited, passed down from his family or his hometown culture. Either way, Nathanael has internalized a prejudice that makes him unbelieving of a Nazarene Messiah.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many ways Jesus made himself not fit in. For a divine being who followed centuries of prophecies of his coming, he sure went out of his way to be precisely what no one expected. A baby, a refugee, a Galilean, a working man's son, a friend of sinners. Somehow he came "among us" while at the same time being just outside of where we'd like to draw the line that defines "us."

Far be it from me to presume to know why God does anything he does. But what if, by never fitting into any of our "us" boxes, Jesus is pushing us to seek him out in the groups of people different from ourselves? Like Nathanael, the kinds of people we have the most trouble with might be the ones we're close to, the one we see every day but never care to socialize with, the ones who are our neighbors. If Jesus insists on being on the other side of the "us" line, then perhaps we should be looking for him among "those people." If we find him there, I think we will also find a bit of ourselves there, too, and we'll gradually move our "us" line a little further out. One glorious day, we will look around to see that our "us" line is cast so far out that there is no "them" left. And on that day, Jesus will finally fit.

Is it possible? When Nathanael was skeptical Philip had one thing to say: "Come and see."