Jesus, Philip, Nathanael and the Fig Tree
Week by week, we are moving through the Gospel of John. At the end of the first chapter, Jesus is calling his disciples. First he called Andrew, who went to find his brother Simon Peter (whom we usually just call Peter) and both of them followed Jesus, believing they had found the Messiah. Next, Jesus met Philip, and said “Follow me.” Philip went to find Nathanael to tell him the news, that Jesus of Nazareth was the one foretold in the scriptures as the savior of his people. Nathanael listened, and made a wise-crack– “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He doubted it.
Philip knew his friend. He was always making sarcastic remarks. Maybe he had been disappointed when he hoped for something good to happen. Maybe he was afraid he would always be disappointed. Philip didn’t give up on him. He made another attempt to persuade him to come and see. Nathanael wouldn’t commit, and finally Philip left to follow Jesus. To his surprise, Nathanael followed him. Nathanael dragged his feet. He kicked rocks. He picked up sticks and threw them ahead of Philip, trying to make him duck. But he came. He looked at the ground when they got near Jesus, digging his toes in the dirt, not even looking at him.
Jesus wasn’t surprised. He even spoke Nathanael’s language; and greeted him with a sarcastic joke. “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (The Israel Jesus referred to was the new name of Jacob, who was well-known as a deceitful trickster who fooled both his father and brother). Startled–this wasn’t what he expected–Nathanael looked up and blurted out, “When did you get to know me?” When Jesus answered that he saw him under the fig tree before Philip called him, Nathanael let go of all his sarcasm and hostile defenses, and believed that what Philip said was true. “Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the king of Israel!” Jesus must have laughed pretty hard before he answered him, almost saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” Jesus adds to the image of God’s son and Israel’s king, a description of the ladder from Jacob’s (Israel’s) dream on which angels descended and ascended. Perhaps he was saying that he is also the ladder which links heaven and earth. These images helped the new disciples (and us) begin to see who Jesus is.
In this season after Epiphany, we will be hearing many stories, and bringing to mind many images, that help us see who Jesus is. Epiphany comes from the ancient Greek: epiphaneia, is a noun, meaning literally, “a shining forth: it was used of the appearance of a god to men,” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary.)
Questions to think about:
- When you hear good news, who is the first person you want to tell?
- Do you usually expect good things to happen? Or do you worry that whatever happens will be bad?
- What helps you to believe something is true?
- How would you describe Jesus? How would you tell someone about Jesus?
Children’s activities for this story are here.
Blessings, Mother Anne+