Sunday, September 28, 2014

You Will See

One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.  Daniel 7:13-14

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than this.”  And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  John 1:49-51

Creator God, out of chaos you brought order.  Out of nothingness you brought life.  In the middle of all life stands the tree.

Trees provide the air that nurtures all your creation.  Birds make them their homes.  Cats climb them for protection.  Trees recycle life that has come before.

Bless the trees of this word, loving God.  Remind us to serve as their caregivers and protectors.  Give them long limbs and long life.  The gift of their breath is as special to us as the breath of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

According to the Grace to You website, John's whole gospel is written to prove that Jesus is the Son of God, that's how it begins, right? "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God," and he goes on to talk about in the Son was God manifest. And here in the very first chapter he gives the testimony of Nathanael to add to the thesis of the whole gospel that this Jesus is the Son of God. 

Nathanael probably lived in a small, one-room house.  With the heat and the noise, he probably headed outside for a little respite.  The notes to this chapter tell us that he came from a sect that studies scripture.  So maybe he was thinking about Scripture, or doing some contemplative prayer when Jesus sensed he was under that fig tree. Or maybe he was just relaxing -- getting in a quiet moment before the next household chore demanded time.

Whatever brought him under the tree, Jesus and Nathanael “seem” to know each other before they are even introduced.  This call of Nathanael, so early in John’s Gospel, is a story based upon conversion by words and images alone.  Although John’s Gospel is known for the signs and miracles related, there are really no signs used to call Nathanael except Jesus knowing his name before they meet.  In reaction, Nathanael also reveals his faith through the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel totally independent of anything that takes place in the rest of John’s Gospel.

Jesus sees Nathanael in his lowly position sitting on the ground under a fig tree.  However, thanks to the fruit of his faith, Jesus reveals that Nathanael will rise far above that lowly station and climb Jacob’s ladder into heaven.

Trees play a central part in Scripture from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden to the tree upon which Jesus is crucified to the Tree of Life that bears fruit twelve times a year in Revelation 22.  In fact, several sources explain that the fig tree was the first tree bearing edible fruit to be mentioned in the Bible.  It was the source of the leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover their bodies. 

The fig tree represents the Jewish nation, which seemed to be thriving -- with an abundance of leaves -- but spiritually it was producing no fruit. Many times, the fig tree portrayed is barren.  Jesus often rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this lack of spiritual fruit, according to Patricia Bagwell in her article on The Symbolism of the Fig Tree.  Nathanael’s rich spiritual sense contrasts with the barren spirituality of the scribes and Pharisees.   This he is rewarded with the knowledge of Jesus and the knowledge that Jesus gives him in return for his great faith.

While I cannot say I have ever sat in the shade under a fig tree, the neighborhood where I grew up was an old apple orchard.  Every yard had one or two apple trees left behind.  We climbed those trees or sat in their shade when the summer heated up.  We carved our initials in their bark.  We rolled around in the colorful leaves that fell.  We used the apples in various games we played.  Green apples make great projectiles.  However, they are not very good as substitute baseballs…unless your aim is to make apple sauce, not first base.  The fruit of our childhood was richer for those memorable trees. When the trees were no longer strong enough to bear fruit or support games, the wood was chopped, cut and split for fireplaces and ended up warming our homes and bodies in the winter.

Nathanael was richer for his time under the fig tree.   He was called out from that symbolic comfort zone to “come and see” and do great things.  We also are called out of our comfort zone to be aware of the world around us and how we can help with action, by sharing our treasure, or by donating our clothes, food, and more to help the poor and give them comfort, warmth, and food like those apple trees of my youth and the fig trees in Salvation History.  

PS:  "Poems were made by fools like me But only God can make a tree."  Joyce Kilmer

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