24 August 2007

Loving your skin

St. Bartholomew (Nathanael): Rev 21.9-14 and John 1.45-51
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen Here!

Here is a true child of Israel! Come and see.

Leather cords coil around the wrists. Bloody-sticky, the torn, pinched skin, caked with sand and hair, looks ready to pop, ready to turn itself inside-out in wet surrender. Fingers no longer move, blue-black, clogged and swollen with long-dead blood. He can hear the air split around each studded cord. . .and rattle in its descent, like market-day jewelry or a tent’s bead curtain, sharp and bronze. A biting stone, blade-edged to scrape the bone, to flay away the flesh and rend the spirit.

Nathanael says to Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you—‘Come and see!’—I saw you under the fig tree.”

The first bronze barb strikes his sagging flesh just above the shoulder. The second strikes just next to the first and the remaining seven bite in line across his back. Pulling the leather cords unzips his skin, opening his flesh like ripping silk. Before he falls again to his knees, the nine scores leach out blood in perfectly straight rivulets. Falling, he smears his blood against one of those who try to hold him up and bent-over. We hear a faint, breathless profession, just a word or two as history.

Nathanael says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answers him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”

Squinting his eyes against stinging sweat and cloying blood, he sees bits of meat—no longer wildly flayed pieces but filleted cutlets—neatly squared portions of his body stacked at the feet of those who fear him for loving Christ. His nine-barbed scourge hangs in the crook of tree branch, dripping small drops to the roots in the earth. His tongue swells to push against his teeth. And he no longer screams, watching his testimony in flesh and blood dissected. He will see greater things than these.

Philip finds Nathanael and preaches to him: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law…Jesus, from Nazareth.” Nathanael, for a moment puzzled and prejudiced, says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip, again preaching, says, “Come and see.” Come and see the Christ for yourself. Come and see if I lie about the Messiah. Come and see the truth of my witness to you. Come and see your skin flayed to ribbons and your blood drained to wet the roots of a tree. Come and see your tongue swollen to silence and your witness hushed in the barbed rush of the scourge. What is Philip inviting Nathanael to come and to see? Christ? Yes, and more. The Good News? Yes, and more. Much more. Philip invites Nathanael to come and see the Christ who knows him—Nathanael—knows him already! I saw you under the fig tree, Jesus says to his newest disciple.

And why does Nathanael believe? Because Jesus does a magic trick by telling him where he has been? No. Like all of those in the gospels who come across the Christ, all of those who approach him in some need, with longing, Nathanael sees with eyes wide-open the glory of the Word given meat and bone standing before him. He sees all of his deficiencies turned to excesses; all of this problems resolved into gifts; all of his sins washed clean and forgotten. He sees standing before him the Son of God and the Son of Man come to give himself for us all. There is nothing else for Nathanael to say, nothing else for any of us to say but, “Jesus, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!”

How much do you love your skin? Is it worth a single witness? Just one chance to say out loud to an unsuspecting disciple of the Lord, “Come and see…”?


  1. Wow, are these your homilies that you post? I am quite impressed! I would love to hear you in person at some point. I may have to make a trip!

  2. Dusty,

    Yes, they are all my homilies...thanks for reading them.

    You are most welcomed to visit us here at UD...look me up if you decide to come...upstairs Haggar Bldg.

    Fr. Philip, OP