by Rev. Fr. K. K. John
Gospel reading for today’s meditation is from John 1:43-51. Jesus found Phillip on His way to Galilee and told him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote; Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.” Nathanael queried, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip answered, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.” Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were sitting under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael confessed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” Jesus revealed that Nathanael will see greater things such as heaven opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
Following the baptism of Jesus two disciples of John, Andrew and John, joined Jesus in the first phase of ministry. John does not mention his name. They spent a night with Jesus, sharing his glory. Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus. At first sight itself Jesus declared that Simon shall be renamed as Peter. This special treatment is not seen in the case of other disciples.
(1) Next day on his way to Galilee, probably from Cana, Jesus saw Philip and told, “Follow Me.” Philip readily followed Jesus without doubts or concerns. A doubter can never be a good follower. Obedience to the divine call and the Scriptures is a must for discipleship. Probably, Philip might have known Jesus beforehand and had sound knowledge the holy life of Jesus. A great deal of trust need be earned for a leader to call someone to follow him. Without worthy and dedicated character one cannot infuse interest in others to follow. St Paul said, “Join in following my example,” Phil 3:17.
(2) Following Christ is a costly matter, (1) follower has an urgency to spread the Gospel instead of self-gratification, Luke 10:4, (2) requires undivided commitment to Christ and unflinching loyalty to Christ, Luke 9:57-62, (3) deny self, (4) take up one’s own cross, Mat 16:24, (5) love and obey Christ more than parents, wife, children, siblings and own life, Mat 10:37-39. Let us introspect how honest are we as Christian followers! Discipleship is not putting the lighted lamp under basket, Mat 5:15; a disciple cannot but preach Gospel. That is the spirit of St Paul who says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Rom 1:16. That is exactly what compelled Andrew to invite Simon and Philip to invite Nathanael and bring them to Christ. That is what is expected of each believer. A believer is duty-bound to transmit the grace, mercy, peace and blessings he/she received from God to pass on to others. God must be thus glorified. Tennyson wrote, “As one lamp lights the other, nobility enkindles the nobility.”
(3) Certain so-called scholars who “logically analyze” the gospel events and Christ suggest that Nathanael is not a real human being, but a type of true Israelite. It is not the sign of faith to perennially analyze according to human understanding which is always defiled and incomplete that ends up in nothingness. The name “Nathanael” (meaning “gift of God”) is found only in the gospel of John. Even so, the name “Bartholomew” is found in all synoptic gospels but not found in John. Thus Nathanael is another name of Bartholomew, son of Tholmai. Keeping two names was a sound Jewish tradition.
(4) An extra-biblical tradition says that Nathanael was of the same age as Jesus. When Herod ordered infanticide, Mat 2:16, many a number of parents fled Bethlehem in haste, hid themselves in caves and neighboring countries to save their infants. Nathanael was a child thus saved from the wrath of Herod. Some people think that Nathanael was homeless. He spent most of his time reading and meditating on the Scriptures sitting under fig tree. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.
(5) Nathanael could not readily accept what Philip claimed. Nathanael was quite familiar with Scriptures. Some scholars think that Nathanael’s question resonate Jewish prejudice against Nazareth. There were reasons for prejudice for a Jew; civic life of Nazareth was none too good, immorality was on the rise, village rivalries were rampant, etc. But that view does not hold water. Nathanael was sure that Scriptures did not mention a prophet from Nazareth. Not knowing how to act ‘politically correct,’ Nathanael is outright frank; he expresses what he believed without least thinking how Philip would take his opinion. Nathanael was not a hypocrite. Frankness is a virtue. That is an attribute of pure heart. Straightforwardness is its synonym. Being straightforward is one of the seven virtues, which enables one to attain Moksha according to Hindu philosophy. But frankness is not a popular concept in these days.
(6) Philip’s response to Nathanael deserves immense credit. He did not dismay at Nathanael’s response and yet refrained from an argument to prove his point. By argument no one has ever accomplished a mission nor won another. For this reason St Paul exhorted to “cast down arguments,” 2Cor10:5. Faith is not established through arguments; arguments often turn counterproductive. Faith need not even seek scientific evidences or logic and yet faith is not without logic; St Peter says, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear,” 1Pe 3:15. Philip simply says, “Come and see,” Philip was convinced of the futility of arguing. Better option was to invite Nathanael to visit and convince himself. Nathanael accepted Philip’s call.
(7) Seeing Nathanael coming to him Jesus commented, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit,” v47. By this comment Jesus is evidencing God’s all-knowing (omniscient) attribute. He knows who we are at heart. “God does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart,” 1Sam 16:7. Imagine the height of exultation when an employee receives a flattering commendation from the employer. Nathanael is doubly blessed to receive such a great certificate from Jesus at first sight itself for which not many were qualified. Jesus recognized Nathanael’s great virtue. Deceit is a feature of the wicked, says Prov 12:5. “Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil,” Prov 12:20. Psalm 32:2 says, “Blessed is the man in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
(8) Instead of getting self-elevation to self-righteousness, Nathanael is puzzled how and when Jesus knew him to make such a rare remark. His question to Jesus, “How do you know me,” v48 reveals the distinction between God-Jesus and human mortals who fail to see far beyond. Fig tree is grown in plenty in Holy Lands. Fig tree is a symbol of Israel, Mark 11:12-13. Life of Jews is closely associated with fig tree; Adam and Eve covered their nakedness and shame with fig tree leaves and hid behind it, Gen 3:7-8. The large sized and densely growing leaves make delightful shade to relax. Jesus appreciates and quenches Nathanael’s curiosity saying, “I saw you when you were sitting under the fig tree.” Sitting under the fig tree should not be taken literally. It has spiritual dimension. Nathanael evidently perceived that Jesus knew all the secrets of human heart. He also knew that no man can ever grasp what another one thinks in his/her heart. Thus Nathanael had no problem to recognize Jesus as the anointed one of Israel. That prompted him to confess Jesus as, “Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel.”
(9) Nathanael’s confession stands out as a golden sign-board in the whole of Gospel events. It is very significant because such a detailed conversation at the first meeting of the disciples and exemplary commendation is not found in the case of other disciples. Gospels are silent whether or not other disciples confessed the deity and lordship of Jesus when they first met. We need not however doubt whether or not disciples confessed the divinity of Jesus Christ. Peter confessed, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God,” Mat 16:16, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are Christ, the Son of the living God,” John 6:68-69. Peter’s confession on both occasions has a corporate nature; through which all other apostles confessed Jesus as Lord and God. The greatest and most intimate of all confessions came from Thomas, Apostle of India; He said, “My Lord and my God,” John 20:28. Not only Holy Bible but also the whole human history is devoid of a parallel confession.
(10) Confession of faith is vital for salvation. Confession does not concise itself into a lip-service; it essentially requires deeds of faith, righteous and blameless conduct to accompany. Venerable fathers taught us that personal confession of faith is not an option but a must for all believers to attain salvation. St Paul exemplified, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Rom 10:9.”Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God,” 1John 4:15. With this end in view, the fathers of the Church canonized the Nicene Creed, which we confess at the end of every prayer and liturgy.
So the message we learn from today’s reading is; we need to emulate the example of Nathanael. Ask reasonable doubts but never keep deceit in the heart. Avoid arguments. Society could be far better without it. In case arguments become inevitable try not to lose equilibrium of mind and emotion. Let each of us beware that we are always in the presence of all-knowing God, without God’s knowledge we can do nothing; our thoughts are equally important as our deeds when it comes to question of salvation. Keep away from hypocrisy and vainglory. Let us meditate, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead in the way everlasting, Ps 139:23-24. God Bless you throughout the New Year.
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by Rev. Fr. Dr. V Kurian Thomas
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by Rev. Fr. Dr. Joy Pyngolil
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