John 1:43-51 “Answering the Call”

Photo: https://www.ginfoundry.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Fig-tree.jpg
  • John 1:43-51     New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
  • “Second Sunday after the Epiphany” January 17, 2021
  • Video: https://youtu.be/j3KH3CnKq2w

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” [NRSA: John 1:43-51]    

Central to Jesus’s work is the calling and equipping of disciples. He calls Philip who is influential in reaching Nathanael and other disciples and further sharing the Good News.

The convincing thing that Jesus grab Nathanael’s interest, trust, and response concerns both Philip and a Fig Tree.

Let’s look at the fig tree first.

As a personal testimony concerning fig trees, I have shared with you that I’m not a big fan of figs unless they are inside a Newton. Then, along with a glass of whole milk, I find the combination rather enjoyable. In reflection of thirty-six years of ministry and eighteen years prior as a preacher’s kid, there have been seven parsonages that had fig trees in the yard, and typically near the driveway. I don’t believe there are such instructions in the Book of Disciples about the furnishing of parsonages that include fig-trees, but as it is a prominent story in scripture I see that it is more likely to have fig bushes than mulberry or olive trees.

The things I have disliked about fig trees are the birds flocking to eat the fruit just when it is ripe that startle one passing by and the mess the birds leave when the remnants have fallen to the grown and one slips on a slimy fig leftover walking around the bush. Also, it’s another item that needs pruning, trimming, and maintenance in the yard. Nevertheless, the one bush that is at the end of our current driveway and near the path to the back yard in our current home is a fig bush. But by now, I have grown accustomed and find it a fond site every day. (I still don’t care to eat a fig, thankful our bush doesn’t have many left after the birds do their job.)

Why would someone be sitting under the fig tree? Likely, the broad branches filled with leaves would provide a cool and shaded spot on a blistering hot day. Secondly, for those who enjoy eating that fruit, it would be a shaded spot filled with snacks available at arms reach. What better place to rest: cool shade and convenient easts. Together, that tells us that Nathanael is a smart cookie. (maybe not as smart as a Fig Newton? I digress)

It is actually more important to see that Jesus’s call of disciples is not by chance. It is with insight, purpose, and intention that Jesus is looking for those to start the work of the church and to see it through times of struggle as well.

Part of what makes Nathanael a candidate for disciple-hood, is resourcefulness, his smarts, and practicality. These are good skills for a disciple. Part of what Jesus saw in Philip was his ability to reach other people. And this is just how Nathanael comes to meet Jesus, that is through Philip. The story of this fig tree is only to further persuade ‘Nate’ that God is already at work in his life.

The “Fig Tree” becomes a symbol of God’s patience, grace, and judgment later in Jesus’s ministry. But today’s fig tree is a person’s moment and place of being known by God.

Too often we don’t actually live thinking about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit being with us on a daily basis. Surely they are too busy, with more important matters, than to monitor our moment by moment activities. And if so we imagine that God must at least be looking aware at times and not see, hear, and be aware of our everyday life.

If we think of God being with us we would either be emboldened to defy God’s righteousness by doing what is evil, or opposite, or contrary to God, in God’s presence. And, if we think that God is too busy to be present with us, always, then we are not always trusting God’s presence in our fears, anxieties, and worries.

I’m assuming that we all just don’t think God is with us in the minute details, rather just checking in when we are at church, or in prayer, or study, or some random chance. Part of the Philip and Nathanael ‘call’ stories teach us that God is at work intentional with us, even when we are not aware of those moments.

When we think of God being busy, looking the other way, with some more important, more needed, or more evil than ourselves, we actually are teaching ourselves God is much smaller. Know that we don’t have to fully figure out God, even though God fully knows us.

Though this passage teaches us God is concerned, Jesus is with us, the Holy Spirit is in the breeze, in the share, in the daily tasks, and no matter how ingenious, smart, clever, resourceful, or alert, God is always a step ahead, a step behind, and standing with us.

So what do fig-trees, Philip, and Nathanael have to do with us in 2021?

God is no less interested in working in our lives than God was working with that tree, the tree in the middle of the garden or the bush at the end of our driveway. God is not less interested in working through our relationships, our days and night, our work and rest, to reveal the kingdom of God throughout the world in our time.

2021 is a call for the church, our church, every church to see the ordinary elements of our work and rest and the relationships that we already have established to be open to God’s revealing the Kingdom today.

In review, what has God seen us do this week that reveals God’s presence? Are our words, thoughts, and actions reflecting God’s presence, God’s patience, God’s power, and God’s plan — or have we done a better job of reflecting our own understanding, our own expectations, and our own goals?

Both Philip and Nathanael have different talents. God uses each of us in different ways, but the core, our starting point comes in recognizing that God’s Spirit is with us, and is longing to love us and work through us to bless the whole world.

2020 the church faced the greatest threat of being not relevant than ever in our lifetimes. We have clearly been labeled as non-essential workers. I’m not trying to make a political statement, I am clearly making a spiritual statement. In our collective lifetime, we have not been instructed to close our doors. Recall our motto was once, “Open Doors..” The threat of pandemic has made it easier to not gather for Christian fellowship, to NOT share our questions and stories of faith in the study; it has made it easier to occupy our time and interest in other activities.

When the pandemic started, if you were listening, your pastor/preacher reminded that this would be a time to spend more effort in prayer, study, and spiritual preparation. For some of us, 2020 was a good excuse to be sitting under the safe shade of a fig tree and not risk the heat of the day. We have grown more comfortable expending less in being the church in the name of safety.

We have tried to be innovative and creative, but the question comes to us: for a world that is starving for faith, security, peace, hope, trust, truth, love, and grace — have we been eating figs under the shade of the tree to prepare us for what is next, or simply to get by, be safe, be contented.

Nathanael’s ‘call’ story is as convicting for us as it was for him. Philip and Nathanael have a similar story to the familiar story of Mary and Martha. Both of those sisters had great talents and skillsets; Mary’s were needed more at one time, while Martha’s at a different time.

2020 was our retreat under the fig tree. 2021 is our call to reach out to those we know and those we are called to reach out to bring people to the love, truth, and heart of Christ for themselves.

Take this week to begin a list of persons that God might be calling you to reach, invite, call, and bless.

Take this week to move from the silent prayers of homes and hearts, into the conversation with share with others that they might clearly experience God’s Spirit working in their own lives.

2020 might been names Nathanael. 2021 is Philip. The year of stepping out of the shade, away from the figs, and into each other’s hearts.

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