Meditation: How can we know with certainty that Jesus is truly who he claims to be – the Son of God and Savior of the world? Philip was eager to tell his friend Nathaniel (who is also known as Bartholomew) about his decision to be a disciple of Jesus. Philip tried to convince his friend that Jesus was the Messiah, whom Moses and the prophets had foretold. Nathanial was very skeptical because he didn't think it was possible for the Messiah to come from Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Nathaniel not only disliked the town of Nazareth, he despised its residents as unworthy of religious toleration. "How could anything good come from such a place?" Nazareth was at the crossroads of the ancient world where people from different cultures and religions would pass through. Perhaps Nathaniel thought its religious teachers were not orthodox in their understanding and interpretation of the law of Moses. Besides, how could the Messiah come from Galilee when the prophets said he would come from Bethlehem of Judaea? Aren't we all a bit like Nathaniel? We are skeptical when someone tries to convince us of the truth until we can comprehend it for ourselves.
So what kind of proof did Philip offer to Nathaniel? Rather than argue with his friend, Philip took the wiser strategy of inviting Nathaniel to "come and see" for himself who this Jesus claimed to be. Clever arguments rarely win people to the gospel; but an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ can change one's life forever. When people are receptive to the word of Christ and when they see his love in action, the Lord Jesus himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, touches their hearts and opens their minds to God's revelation.
When Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus, Jesus did something which only God could do! He opened Nathaniel's heart and his innermost thoughts and desires to God's revelation. Jesus called Nathaniel a true "Israelite in whom there is no guile." God had chosen Jacob, who was given the name Israel, over his twin brother Essau, because Jacob was a man of faith, without guile or cunning like Essau (Genesis 25:27). Nathaniel, like Jacob, hungered for God and believed in God's promises. Nathaniel knew the scriptures; he had read the law and the prophets. And like Jacob he was waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises to his people Israel. Nathaniel was an earnest seeker of God. He not only sought to grow in understanding of God's word, but he sought an intimate personal relationship with God as well. That is why he was willing to meet Jesus, to see if perhaps this miracle worker from Galilee might be the long-awaited Messiah and Savior.
God places in every heart a desire and intimate yearning to personally know the One who created us in love for love. Saint Augustine of Hippo, who found God only after many years of wandering in disbelief and spiritual darkness, exclaimed in his autobiographical Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
What is the significance of Jesus' revelation of seeing Nathanial under the fig tree? The fig tree was a symbol of God's blessing and peace. It provided shade from the midday sun and a cool place to retreat and rest. It is possible that Philip spoke with Nathaniel about the Messiah under the shade of the fig tree. Or maybe this was Nathanial's favorite place for daily prayer and meditation on God's word. Perhaps he dozed off for a midday nap and dreamed of God's kindgom like Jacob did while he slept under the stars and saw a vision of a great ladder or stairway which united earth with heaven (Genesis 28:12). Nathaniel accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord because Jesus spoke to the need of his innermost being – his desire to know God personally and to be united with him in his glory. Jesus' response to Nathanial's new faith is the promise that he himself will be the "ladder which unites earth with heaven" (see Genesis 28:12-17). God had opened a door for Jacob that brought him and his people into a new relationship with the living God. In Jacob's dream God revealed his angelic host and showed him the throne of heaven and promised Jacob that he and descendants would dwell with the living God.
Jesus proclaims to Nathanial that he himself is the fulfillment of this promise to the Patriarch Jacob. Jesus is the true ladder or stairway to heaven. In Jesus' incarnation, the divine Son of God taking on human flesh for our sake, we see the union of heaven and earth – God making his dwelling with us and bringing us into the heavenly reality of his kingdom. Jesus' death on the Cross and his Resurrection opens the way for each of us to come into a new relationship with God as his sons and daughters. The Lord Jesus opens the way for each of us to "ascend to heaven" and to bring "heaven to earth" in the daily circumstances of our lives. God's kingdom is present in those who seek him and who do his will. Do you pray as Jesus taught, May your kingdom come and your will be done in earth as it is in heaven?
"Heavenly Father, through your Son Jesus Christ, you have opened the way to heaven for us. As you revealed yourself to your beloved Patriarchs and Apostles, so reveal yourself to me that I may glorify you in my daily life. May I always find joy in your presence and never lose sight of the kingdom of heaven."
This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/