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
Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’
Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come 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.’
So lets get right to it. Jesus is rounding up his disciples and as he comes into town, he finds Philip. And Jesus says "Follow Me!" and Philip does. Now nothing against Philip, but that about sums up his call story. Jesus says, "Follow," Phil says, "OK."
But then, Phil is so excited, he runs around the corner, past the deli , hops the chain link fence and cuts across the empty lot to find his friend Nate, and tell him all about it. As he reaches the gas station, he starts calling, "Nate... Naaaate!" Nate of course, is under a car doing an oil change. "Nate! You won't believe it! I found the guy! The one we've been waiting for! Nate! Are you hearing me? He's the one all the prophets were writing about... the one who Moses talked about... he's the Messiah Nate... His name is Jesus, and he is the son of Joseph.... you know that guy from across the river in Hoboken?" (ok, it's Nazareth, but work with me...)
I love Nathaniel- he has that subtle touch of Brooklyn sarcasm- So he rolls out from under the car on the dolly, takes a rag out of his Dickies and wipes the black grease from his forehead... and he says wryly, "Right... like somethin' good can come outta Jersey... uh huh"
And I'm not quite sure how he does it, but Philip convinces him to leave the car up on the lift and go with him, and when Jesus sees them coming, he smiles, and calls out, "Hey! A real Jew! And not a false bone in his body!" That's a pretty steep compliment... so naturally, Nathaniel looks around at who Jesus might be talking to, and when he realizes that it must be him, says to Jesus, "Uh... where-ja get ta know me?"
Jesus looks back at him and smiles. And he says "Nathaniel... long before Philip came to get you, I saw you here... under the fig tree... I saw you here when you were learning to fix cars by helping your dad do your uncles transmission... I saw you when you took your first new car for a drive around the neighborhood, and when you used that same convertible to take Suzi Abondanza to the prom... I saw you when you snuck into the movie theater without paying and when the usher hauled you out of there by the collar. I saw you cough when you first learned to inhale and watched you wince as you got your first tattoo... I saw your mom take you to school for the first time and how you cried when she left you... I saw the look on your face when you first saw your baby brother, and I caught you when you fell off the kitchen counter and nearly broke your arm... I witnessed your birth, and you and I had long discussions about theology and politics and life when you were still in the womb... when did I get to know you? I've always known you."
And Nathanial is astounded; and looks back at Jesus, and realizes who he is talking to.... and he says "Truly, you are the Son of God.
And now it's Jesus' turn to laugh... and he says, "You've become a believer simply because I say I saw you under the fig tree?" And, getting excited himself, Jesus give Nate a big Jesus bear hug and doesn't let go... and through that infectious ear to ear smile, says "Buddy, this is only the beginning! You haven't seen anything yet!" And before Nate can catch his breath from the almighty grip of Christ, Jesus grabs him by both shoulders and begins to run on about what lies in store... "Nate! Wait till you see what happens... before this is over, you're going to see heaven open and God's angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again!" And he puts his big burly arm around Nate and they walk down to the diner to get a bacon cheeseburger with fried onions to celebrate...
Talk about an encounter with Christ!
"Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me..."
How many of us, like our friend Nate, think of ourselves as having been able to fly under the radar (or under the fig tree, as the phrase goes)... that we have gone unnoticed; that the things we do, or the people we are, for the most part, stay in the unimportant little faction of God's world... that the lives we live don't really make that much of a difference even to the people we interact with on a daily basis like our family... much less God. That the people we have become.... well... it is what it is... and what happens to me or what I've done up to this point has really be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
In fact, if we push it one step farther, how many of us by continuing to hold the perception that we fly under the radar, feel relieved and almost safer being invisible... that being under the radar allows us to stay in the back... not get involved... not step up to anything much at all... that staying unnoticed also in some sense makes us feel safe... to have people notice things about us... to have people know us period, means that now we have some sort of responsibility- some sort of accountabilitiy... to ourselves... to others... to community.. to church... ick!
But psalm 139 (sorry to break it to everyone out there sipping a diet Pepsi and reading Cosmo comfortably under the fig tree) tells us that we are already knows... that while we may think that we are among the "ordinary" in the world, and perhaps are called to nothing more than mediocrity, God considers us instead, a "work in progress. " We have been in God's perpetual care and have been living out God's plan for us, for our whole lives!
Are you ok with that? That you are a work in Progress? And that maybe the thought that you are a "completed" person is a misconception?
And we tend to laugh at that... "Pastor, a tiger doesn't change it's stripes. I know who I am, and that God made me this way... I am the way I am... I'm not smart... I'm not clever.... I'm not handy... I'm not (fill in the blank)" It always seems to come down to the fact that we don't think of ourselves as good enough.
But guess what? "The news is not that we are worse than we think, it is that we are better than we think, and better than we deserve to be. Why? Because at the very bottom of the whole enterprise is the indisputable fact that we are created, made, formed, invented, patented in the image of goodness itself. That is what it means, that is how one translates being created in the image of God: it means to be created in the image of goodness itself.... People may take everything away from you, they may deprive you of everything you have and value, but they cannot take away from you the fact that you are a child of God and bear the impression of God in your very soul. You cannot be destroyed, and that cannot be denied."Peter Gnomes
You see, since you are created by God, in the image of God, God has a plan for you. The capabilities and desires that god has put in you are also created by God. So if God is putting something in your path... if God has planted a desire in your heart... God is going to equip you with everything you need to complete it. Scripture tells us that the God who has begun a good work in you with be faithful to complete it... regardless of our own thoughts about our limitations or abilities. Our part then, is simply to decide between what God has put in our path and what WE have put in our path. Sometimes we take on something we aren't called to do... and trust me that isn't pretty.
I don't know if you are planning on stepping up or if you've stepped out or maybe just stepped on to the fence. And I'm not saying that there isn't cause to be tentative... Discernment is a tough process... but if you have taken a step at all... if you've wiped the grease from your forehead and taken that first step toward the one who is calling you, then well done!
Because life under the fig tree is only the beginning. You wont believe the things that are going to happen or that you are going to witness. And when you catch your breath from the big bear hug, and you feel Jesus' burly arm wrap around your shoulder, you'll know you've stepped into something amazing! And in the meantime- find a way to get with other people also stepping out; maybe even get yourself a bacon cheeseburger with fried onions to celebrate!