From John’s Gospel:
Nathanael said to [Philip], “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 1:46 (NRSV) – January 16, 2014.)
We make many assumptions based on geography. Think of the all the comedians who make a living in North America by joking about stereotypes of Canadians — the television program South Park has made a running gag of Canadian stereotypes for years! Just try saying, as I truthfully can, “I was born in Las Vegas.” You’ll be very surprised by the reactions and the seriously ridiculous comments (I no longer am).
Although my wife is not a Las Vegan (she’s from a town in northeastern Nevada), we met and were married there. When I say that to someone in her presence — “We were married in Las Vegas” — she always adds “in a large church wedding.” She knows full well that the immediate assumption raised by my statement is that our marriage took place at the Little Chapel in the Parking Lot Behind Caesar’s Palace or some similar establishment.
Nathanael is voicing geographic assumptions in his question to Philip. In word, he is stereotyping.
Nazareth in Galilee, north of Jerusalem, was a nothing town, a poor, back water village of maybe 500 people ignored by nearly everyone, not only the Roman Empire but even by its nearby neighbors. Its residents were the First Century Jewish equivalent of hillbillies. It was not the sort of place from which one expected anything great, or anything at all . . . even an inhabitant of a similar neighboring town (like Bethsaida) could turn his nose up at it!
There are plenty of such places in the world today; there are many, many modern-day Nazareths. Every empire has its left-behind, forgotten, impoverished villages, its places from which no one expects any good thing to come. The spirit of Nazareth lives on in the slums and abandoned neighborhoods of Detroit, of Rio de Janeiro, of Calcutta, of hundreds of cities and towns around the globe.
“Can anything good come from [fill in the blank . . . I’m sure you know a place]?”
Philip’s answer to Nathanael is “Come and see.” God has two answers. The obvious answer: Yes! The less obvious answer is an admonition to stop stereotyping. If we can learn to take off the blinders of our geographic (and other) assumptions, if we can give up the habit of stereotyping, we will see greater things.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.