Calling a spade a spade and not an agricultural implement

The story that forms the basis of this brief article relates to the incident in the first chapter of John’s gospel when Jesus was being introduced by Philip to a man called Nathaniel. Philip told him that they had found the man that Moses and the prophets had written about, and His name was Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. The mention of the word Nazareth prompted an exclamation from Nathaniel. ‘Nazareth?’ he said, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ Philip’s response was, ‘Come and see for yourself.’

Nathaniel’s response to Philip’s invitation is interesting in many ways. First it tells us, as Jesus later affirmed, that here was a man who told it like it is; who as it were had a tendency to call a spade and spade, took no prisoners, and seemed to shoot from the hips. The reason for his response was rooted in regional history.

Bible scholars tell us that Nazareth had certain notoriety among the Jews because it was the base of a Roman garrison. Those from there were seen as collaborators and traitors who worked with Roman occupiers and oppressors. Those from Nazareth were deeply distrusted. They were treated with suspicion at best and hostility at worst. So, Nathaniel’s view of Jesus had been coloured by history, deeply rooted in the politics of the day, and perhaps his own experience of Nazarenes.

The lesson to us is the need for honesty in our views. Some people’s natural wiring is called blunt. They are best deployed in the battle field rather than in the foreign diplomatic corp. However, at the same time we should be careful not to batch, categorise and dump people in the same waste basket. Whilst speaking honestly we should be careful of dangerous generalisations; giving people the opportunity to prove themselves and be careful not to allow our sense of history, received wisdom and hand-me-down prejudice, to affect our assessment and judgment of others. Though from Nazareth, Jesus was clearly an exception. Nathaniel found out and was gracious and humble enough to adjust his views.

Copyright Emmanuel Mbakwe 2013©

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