Sermon Ideas For John 1:43-51 Part 3
Nathanael is represented in the history of art and painting as a martyr facing the grim fate, according to tradition, of being skinned alive. Most of the paintings in which this apostle is depicted include a knife.
The great 17th century master Rembrandt has rendered a close, psychological portrait of the apostle, contemplating his doom. Standing out against a dark background the apostle is seated. Light from a source forward and to the right of the apostle illuminates only certain features of his face, chest and a hand gripping a knife. Like a waning moon the Apostle's face is one quarter hidden in darkness. The right eyebrow is lifted above an eye grimly focused not outwardly, but inwardly. The forehead is creased in worried contemplation. The pilgrimage of the soul has lead him here, where alone he must consider the cost of faith. This painting is harsh tonic for a contemporary church that smoothes over the more demanding aspects of its faith. This painting is a much needed, corrective context to the modern reflection on the nature of Jesus' call to "follow me." Something closely kin to the theological intensity of Kierkegaard's study of the sacrifice of Isaac is found in this Rembrandt, a painter who with Kierkegaard, also famously studied Abraham's harsh test of faith.
The brighter elements of the call are contained in this passage in the promise of Jesus to this disciple that he will see heaven opened up and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
In his great Comedy, the medieval poet Dante climbs up through the stages of heaven until he comes to the end of the sphere of the planets and is posed to begin his journey into the stars. The last planet is Saturn. This planet functions as the boarding platform for the journey of the contemplatives into the highest realms of heaven. Here those who have pondered the mysteries of faith await transit to realms of pure light. Canto 21 describes the two poles of faith: the bright promise shining upon the heavy cross; the meditation upon the cost of faith against the hope of rising up above our worried questions. 1 It seems that Christians are called to live in the middle of these opposing sides of faith.
1. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, trans., The Comedy of Dante Alighieri Cantica III Paradise (England: Penquin Books, 1962), p. 242.