Lessons under the Fig Tree | John 1.47-49
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:47-49 | ESV
Nathanael goes with Philip – but Jesus sees Nathanael first as he approaches him and he calls out (more fruit inspection!) “Hey everyone, look! Now here’s a real Israelite who is Jacob-free – no mind games or sleight of hand with this one!” Nathanael is immediately put on the defensive. “How do you know me?” he asks. Jesus bends towards him and says, “Before Philip called you – you know, when you were enjoying some solitude under that fig tree? Yeah, I was there. I saw you.” Nathanael knows that was impossible and he gushes, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God (aka God’s Man, Messiah)! You are the king of Israel!” MAV
Sometimes we call it “reading someone’s mail.” Privy to circumstances, events, thoughts, etc. that only you should know. This is what Jesus does to Nathanael. Once again, Jesus sees. Only this isn’t the word meaning to thoughtfully gaze upon or to study. This is the knowing that is intuitive, that runs deep and emanates from inner discernment. Perhaps we could call it a knowing look. But knowing looks are usually exchanged by people who, well, know each other, and that’s what’s throwing Nathanael for a loop. I’m guessing that this fig tree spot was a secluded place where Nathanael would go to be alone – and only his closest friends would know that; what the olive grove known as Gethsemane would later be for Jesus when he was in Jerusalem. And here a total stranger speaks of it with a knowing look and nod of the head like they were old friends. If we, unlike Nathanael, had more of Jacob’s cunning and guile, this all might seem a bit creepy. We’re talking stalker. But as Nathanael turns he’s not creeped out, he’s suddenly swept up in awe. It’s Jacob waking up at what he would name Bethel and suddenly realizing “God is in this place! And I didn’t know it.” He had scoffed at the proverbial unlikelihood of anything or anyone of importance coming from Nazareth – the Sticktown so obscure that we still hear debates today over whether it even existed. We build vaulted sanctuaries and elaborate altars and pray for God to come, but he consistently chooses to show up in the unexpected and unheralded spaces where discarded stones become holy altars upon which heaven descends…awe, but now I’m getting ahead of myself…
Does the notion that God sees you empower or paralyze you? Does it fill you with faith or fear? Why?
Lord, when I feel most isolated, most alone, most forgotten today, gently remind me that you see. That you see me. And let me pass that sight on to others. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.