I want to highlight one or two of the little phrases here that might help us in our own walk with God.
First of all Jesus says to Philip “Follow me”. This is significant because the early Christian movement was primarily a way of life, a way of being, a way of living in a vibrant relationship with the Divine. Before being known as “Christians” we were known as “the way”. A way of walking the path of life modelled on the way that Jesus walked.
Jesus was the model of that special and close relationship with God. Follow me means emulate me. Do as I do. Be as I am. As the eastern Orthodox would say “God became man so that man (us) could become God”.
Without labouring the point I just want to say that Jesus did not ever say “Worship me” he always says Follow me. In fact there is nowhere in the Bible where Jesus asks people to worship him but there are over 20 occasions when he instructs people to follow him. The Roman Catholic theologian Richard Rohr cause a collective intake of breath in Liverpool cathedral last year when he said that worship of Jesus is a poor substitute for following him
If we want to follow Jesus in the way he prayed then we must surely do as he apparently told the disciples to do and we are asked to emulate him and pray to our Father in heaven.
Biblically, authentic Christian prayer is to the Father alone just as Jesus’ prayer was – directed to the sourceless source of all things – the I AM . Later Christian thought adds “Through the son” which for me means in the way that Jesus modelled for us, a close personal relationship with the Father. And completing the Trinitarian formula we often add either “in the power of” or “in union with” God’s Spirit which is the name we give to the active animating creative presence of God.
Two other phrases leap out at me also. Son of Man and Son of God.
Son of God is also I would argue much misunderstood. Son of God is not a phrase Jesus ever used about himself. Even in today’s offering from John, Jesus is addressed as Son of God by Nathaniel yet without affirming or denying it, when Jesus answers him he eschews that title and again refers to himself as Son of Man – which in the Hebrew idiom means like a human being or more simply “a human being”.
The title Son of God is a bit tricky. It doesn’t necessarily confer divinity at all. It is a title that is given to someone who embodies divine qualities – someone who is so close to God that they make God real, a true incarnation, something that we are invited to do also as we follow his lead. It is a title given to human beings, perhaps exactly the point Jesus is making in his exchange with Nathaniel? We should also remember the political force of using a title like that because one of the titles of Caesar was also Son of God. The effect is to say. Who best embodies the qualities and character of God, Caesar and the unjust militaristic empire, or Jesus and the Kingdom?
To emphasise the genuineness of the close personal relationship with God Jesus reaches into Israel’s tradition and makes a comparison between himself and Jacob’s in the book of Genesis who envisioned a ladder reaching between heaven and earth. This alludes to the fact that Jesus sees himself as offering a bridge, a way, a ladder in this case that connects between earth and heaven, between God and man.
To follow Jesus in the way is to set up our own bridgehead between ourselves and God, to become what we already were – sons and daughters of God, that intimate connection between earth and heaven which is in fact one place and was always connected in reality. Realising this essential fact about life is the epiphany that Jesus experienced at his baptism when he heard those words that encapsulate what epiphany tells us. “You are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”