Friday, January 05, 2007

I Saw You Under the Fig Tree

I was struck by today's gospel, John 1:43-51, at a possibilty that I hadn't seen before. I know a lot of people focus on what's in the Bible, but sometimes I like to focus on what's not in the Bible. We hear Jesus say to Nathaniel, "Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree."

Thinking about this in the past, I used to ask myself, "so maybe Jesus saw him from far away, what's the big deal?" And that is a good question. What's so important about Jesus seeing Nathaniel under the fig tree?

Well, a couple of summers ago I was in Winsted, CT, at St. Joseph Parish, and I had to give a reflection on this gospel. What I read in a commentary back then was that "sitting under the fig tree" was symbolic for meditating on the Torah, the leaves providing plenty of shade from the sun, making it a comfortable place to sit and read the Torah.

Today at mass it hit me that the reference that Jesus makes about the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man is in the Torah (Genesis 28:12). Mind you, I'm not saying that this is what actually happened, but wouldn't it be interesting if Nathaniel had been sitting under the fig tree meditating on the Torah and had just read that passage about Jacob's ladder?

So, if this were the case, Nathaniel in meeting Jesus for the first time, would have met somebody who not only told him what he had just been doing, but even gave him the understanding of the passage of scripture he had just been reading. It would then be a call accompanied by an event that when one puts two and two together one realizes that there is no other way to explain this kind of coincidence, that it must be God.

And yet, Nathaniel, just like every follower of Christ, after having a call that would fascinate him beyond telling, would then have to grow in faith and no longer follow Jesus just because of an amazing event that he would not be able to explain any other way except that it was God, but because he would come to believe and to know that Jesus is indeed the holy one of God. Not only this, but Nathaniel, in the course of his vocation, would be tested and have his faith tried, just like the other apostles, when it came to the crucifixion.

Anyone who has every had one of those experiences that can not be explained in any other way except that it was God knows that these experiences do not sustain a vocation. As St. Francis would say "in this is not perfect joy". Rather, a vocation is sustained by the daily "Here I am, Lord," by faithfulness, by humility, by the cross, and more importantly, by the grace of God. Nathaniel learned this, and so must we.

Lord, grant us perseverance in the journey we undertake in being your disciples. Help us, in the midst of difficulties and trials to trust that you are with us. Let us not be discouraged by our weaknesses and faults but rather profit by these by allowing you to use them for our humility and for you to manifest your glory. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

St. Nathaniel and St. Francis, pray for us!


Angela said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I was searching for clarification on today's gospel.

Br. Chris Gaffrey, ofm said...

You're welcome Angela, I'm glad this post helped. Thanks for your comment. Re-reading what I wrote last year just helped me gain new perspective on my current situation. May God be praised!

Fr. Victor Feltes said...

Perhaps Nathaniel had had a recent and memorable dream (like Jacob) about sitting under a fig tree. If a man were to come up to me and describe a dream which I had had I would be more likely to exclaim that he were a prophet than if I had merely been sitting under a real fig tree recently (which anyone might observe.)

Br. Christopher Gaffrey, ofm said...

Thanks, Fr. Victor.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr. Gaffrey so much for your message! I was reading this passage today in my bible over lunch in my van underneath a shade tree... I was struck by Nathaniel's being instantly convinced that Jesus could only be God's son. (And about my own times when I realized that Jesus is...) Thanks for your message that we can only be sustained in following God by things that aren't so spine-tingling... faithfulness, trusting, the cross, humility, and the Grace of God. I am a sinner- noo doubt but I thank my Jesus for his continual message to me and for a grace-led follower who helped me answer well enough what Nathaniel was doing underneath that fig tree.

Anonymous said...

i read that passage too and that's what led me here. when i read it, it felt like Jesus was telling me that He saw me under a fig tree. i didn't know what it meant. and i still don't know yet.
but thanks for the post.:) the 2nd paragraph contains the exact questions i asked. coincidence? nope. Jesus.:)

DSR said...

I am preaching this text tomorrow and your insight has been helpful. I thank God for your obedience and willingness to use blogging to spread his word and encourage others.