To Know or to Be Known

To Know or to Be Known
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Jesus is looking for followers to help him in his work. He picks up Philip and Philip reaches out to Nathanael. Philip is convinced that Jesus is the one of whom Moses and the prophets spoke. Nathanael can’t imagine that any good can come out of the town of Nazareth. But when Jesus sees Nathanael, he instantly and deeply knows him. Nathanael is convinced by this miracle, but Jesus tells him he hasn’t seen anything yet. He tells him he will see angels ascending and descending upon the one who gathers up humanity in all space and time and circumstance. John 1.43 – 51

This story of the beginning of the relationship of Philip and Nathanael with Jesus seems to be a lot about knowing.

  • Philip knows that Jesus is the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote.
  • Nathanael sounds Like he knows Nazareth and isn’t impressed: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
  • Jesus REALLY knows Nathanael: ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’
  • When Nathanael asks how Jesus knows him, Jesus is very specific — “because I saw you under the fig tree.”
  • And finally, Nathanael knows that Jesus is the Teacher, the Son of God, the King of Israel.
  • But Jesus tells Nathanael he doesn’t know anything yet!

Knowing. We like to think we know ourselves. We like to think we know others in our lives, systems, institutions. And not knowing often makes us anxious.

But this passage kind of challenges us. Do we ever really know ourselves or others in the right way to make the best of our lives? Is human knowledge the best guarantee against poor decisions, or even evil?

It doesn’t take reading many headlines to know that a lot of people are making bad decisions based on what they know.

In 1842, when California was still under Mexican governance, Commodore Thomas Catesby Jones seized Monterey for the United States. The trouble was, the United States were not at war with Mexico. Twenty-four hours later, Jones sheepishly withdrew.

He thought he knew.

A Somali refugee ended up in the US and began to do well. He knew himself to be a good person. Others described him as a trustworthy individual. He sent money back home during a drought for famine relief; he paid for food, housing and tuition for two orphanages. And, knowing himself to be a good man, and thinking he knew the situation in his country, he sent money to defend his town from invasion, an invasion, it turned out, that was backed by other countries, including the US. He thought he knew. And now he is imprisoned as a terrorist.

He thought he knew.

Knowledge is important. We make bad decisions if we don’t know enough. But we carry with us so many preconceptions and judgments based on ignorance or inexperience or misinformation, that we can’t trust what we think we know!

But this encounter between Philip and Nathanael and Jesus, reveals a quality of knowing that we miss if we ignore Jesus. Jesus tells Nathanael that he doesn’t know anything yet.

‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

John manages in this his first chapter, to connect to the first chapter of Genesis — the image of angels ascending and descending appears in Jacob’s dream: angels ascending and descending on a ladder between earth and heaven — making the connection between our earthly life and God.

And in the same breath, John manages to reach all the way forward, right to the resurrection. ‘This is what I know,’ Jesus tells Nathanael. And Nathanael next appears with the disciples to witness Jesus resurrected, serving the disciples breakfast on the shore.

Jesus is the one who connects heaven and earth. — the conduit between heaven and earth.
And we learn that it isn’t what we know that is important. It is that we are known. We are known by this Jesus.

Jesus’ caution to Nathanael that ‘you ain’t seen anything yet!’ is a caution to us that we don’t know. And because we don’t know, Jesus calls to to follow him: to root ourselves in the teachings of Jesus, who does know Nathanael, and Phillip, and me, and you.

The psalmist tells us that God has searched us and known us: “Such knowledge, he writes, “is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139)

The ultimate outcome of the calling of the disciples and our calling, is that we will see Jesus as connecting our lives here with God, which gives us a wider perspective. When we make decisions, when we live our lives, we will do things differently if we accept that we are known by God.

People say that, when tragedy strikes, that you should live every day like it is your last. But that points us towards pessimism. We should live our lives as if we are known by God and as if we are on that ladder with Jesus between earth and heaven.

Heaven matters in the big decisions of life and the little ones.

Keep this image of connectedness between earth and heaven in mind. Then knowing isn’t so important. Being right isn’t so import. What matters is that we are known by God. Jesus connects us to God. That’s enough.



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