Come and See!

12th January 2024

The third round FA Cup tie between Newcastle and Sunderland last weekend threw up many challenges, especially for the local police. The historic rivalry and antagonism between these two footballing giants is legendary, so much so that the 6000 travelling Newcastle fans could only attend the match in Sunderland if they travelled on specially chartered coaches. At the ground they were offered protection from a ‘ring of steel’ created by the constabulary.

The post match celebrations didn’t help on the day or for the future (Newcastle won 3-0) as the entire Newcastle squad celebrated wildly in front of their jubilant fans. It was reported that more police officers were deployed in this footballing operation than at any time over the last 40 years, including even the miners’ strikes of the mid 80s.

Local antagonism, envy, distrust and even hatred is a fact of life. Growing up in East Yorkshire I lived in a town whose smaller, local neighbour was a village called Barmby Moor. Barmby Moor was loathed and nothing brought more people out than a local football derby or other competitive event. I don’t know where it came from or how it even started, but this irrational dislike was part of the psyche of my home town and, it must be said, was reciprocated in equal measure. (That said, I bucked the trend as I ended up playing for Barmby Moor men’s football team team aged 16!)

We get a glimpse that these attitudes were around in Jesus’ day from the Gospel reading we have this weekend from the end of John 1.

Philip has met Jesus and enthusiastically declares, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote…….’ in other words the Messiah. Nathanael’s sarcastic response upon hearing the place where this might be is ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’

I wonder whether Nathanael had had a bad experience in Nazareth, or lived close to that place or whether it was something as irrational as Barmby Moor, Sunderland and Newcastle – a failure to consider anything other than the prevailing narrative about how things really are. It’s like this, because it’s always been like this.

Philip’s response is maybe one that we might embrace: ‘Come and see.’

Instead of entering into a debate or argument trying to win the day, Philip invites Nathanael to take a look for himself and then make his mind up. Come and see.

The Christian church is berated by many, undermined by its faults and failures and scorned as irrelevant for today’s world and our society. At times we can rush to defend it when in fact, that’s probably not what’s required or being asked of us.

I wonder whether the best and most engaging response is to do what Philip did – invite people to come and see – to make their own minds’ up based on the evidence they find. I’m not sure that Jesus is that impressed or interested in us defending a particular denomination or practice – indeed, he may well be horrified at what has been done in his name! What he calls us to be is witnesses – people who invite others to ‘come and see’ – to encounter him as the person who changes everything and everyone who enters his presence.

I encourage all of us to find ways to extend this invitation to those we live and work alongside.
Revd Paul