Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Under the fig tree, I saw thee

One of my very favorite stories in the New Testament is found in John 1:43-51. This story, found only in the gospel of John, tells of the conversion of Nathanael. And here is how it goes (or at least how I am telling it):
Phillip lived in Bethsaida, along with Andrew and his brother Peter. When Jesus went through Galilee calling disciples, he found Phillip and said, "Follow me." Phillip instantly discerned that Jesus was the Messiah, and searched for his friend Nathanael, eager to share this good news. However, when Phillip excitedly announced, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write," Nathanael was skeptical, asking, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" I imagine he was filled with a mix of excitement and reluctance as he followed Phillip to see Jesus, thrilled that this man may be the Christ, but trying to guard himself against disappointment. I'll let John tell the next part,
"Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Phillip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel."
What just happened here? Why did Jesus' declaration "When thou was under the fig tree, I saw thee" incite Nathanael to declare His divinity? John doesn't tell us, but, branching from an idea suggested to me by a teacher at an EFY once, I have a theory. Nathanael obviously had shared in Phillip's search for the true Messiah. A guile-less man, he truly desired the kingdom and salvation of God. Suppose that, driven to his knees by fear, doubt, or sorrow, Nathanael had that day been praying to know...anything. What he should be doing with his life. When the Messiah would come. Whether a Messiah was coming. Maybe he was just seeking comfort the best way he knew how, in a place of solitude. Under the fig tree. And maybe, just maybe, he got off his knees, trudged into his house, and minutes later, Phillip runs in, shouting that he has found the true Messiah. Nathanael's heart leaps, but he still fears. He's been disappointed before. But Phillip is his friend, and so he goes to see this Jesus. And then, this revelation, "When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee." And Nathanael realizes, this man is God. And God loves and knows him, one Israelite man in a fishing town in Galilee.
My theory could be way off. But it helps me to understand some things about my Savior. When I doubt and fear and plead on my knees for solace, Jesus sees me. He is with me, and He loves me. How can I not declare, "Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel"?

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