The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 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.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Nathanael is interesting. He’s suspicious, sarcastic, and skeptical. He doubts as well as Doubting Thomas ever could.
Right before this, Jesus had called Andrew and Peter. Philip was from the same town and probably heard about Jesus from them. So in the text today, Philip readily accepts Jesus’ invitation to follow him. He’s so excited that he finds his friend Nathanael and tells him that they’ve found the one the prophets had written about. His name is Jesus and he’s from Nazareth.
Instead of being excited, Nathanael responds, “Nazareth? Has anything worthwhile ever come from Nazareth?”
Philip shrugs his shoulders and says, “Why don’t you find out for yourself? Come and see.”
As they are approaching Jesus, Jesus sees Nathanael and says, “Here is someone who tells it like it is. No sugar-coating from this one.”
Suspicious Nathanael asks him, “How do you know that?”
“I had already seen you under the fig tree.”
And that’s it. At that point Nathanael begins to follow Jesus. His mind apparently changes in a fig-tree moment and he start gushing praise and faith.
Something happened there. Nathanael had some sort of “Aha! Epiphany moment” and everything changed. We don’t know what exactly it was that brought about this sudden change of heart, but obviously it was significant. At least for Nathanael. Whatever it was, shared only by him and Jesus, it mattered. He was different after that. Jesus then assured him, “You will see greater things than this.”
Has something like that ever happened to you? I’m guessing that it has. You may not talk about it; you may not even associate it with God or anything spiritual. But I’m pretty sure you’ve had moments where things suddenly had new clarity, or your perspective on something changed, or you saw things in a new light. That’s an epiphany. The same as Nathanael. God finds a way to come to you.
Like Nathanael, these epiphany moments are rather personal, often defying reason or logic. We think they won’t make sense to anyone else. Which means that sometimes we hesitate to share them. No one else would understand.
I disagree. Because it’s an experience that everyone can resonate with in one way or another. Besides, sharing an epiphany moment can never affect the impact it has had on us. And, who knows, maybe there’s a Nathanael sitting under a fig tree who needs to hear your story, who needs the assurance that God is still at work—that God is still there having an impact in the world. Someone waiting to see even greater things than these.
Some of you are aware of one of my more recent Epiphany moments, but telling it in this context matters. I invite you to listen to a fig tree moment, and, although I’m quite positive this is unique to me, perhaps there’s some part of it that you can relate to or be reassured by.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have had a on-and-off struggle with depression. When it was at is worst, I had the energy to function day-by-day, but nothing else. During that time, all the things that I was relying on within myself fell away, one by one. My talents failed me, my intellect, my experience. Even my theology, which has always been foundational to me. Everything within me that I leaned on to make me who I am fell out from underneath me.
Even my faith.
It wasn’t that I questioned God or doubted God’s existence, it’s that I didn’t have the energy to care one way or another. It simply didn’t matter to me whether or not there was a God, much less whether I believed in one. Trust God? How? Cling to my faith? With what? There was nothing there.
All I knew was that I was free-falling, and everything I had used in my life to catch me, or slow down the fall, or hang on to was no longer there. I couldn’t fight against it, I couldn’t alter its course, I felt like I was simply falling through space. I was completely helpless, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change it. I understand utter powerlessness, because there was no other way to describe it.
That’s when the epiphany happened. That’s when I understood Nathanael’s fig tree moment. I somehow, inexplicably, became aware that I wasn’t falling any more. Instead, I realized I was actually being held. By what or by whom didn’t matter at the time. I was aware of simply being held. With nothing on my own to hold on to, in my complete helplessness, I was being held.
That realization changed everything for me. What I believed or even whether I believed weren’t the most significant things by far. Because in my inability to believe or trust, God was holding me. Nothing I did or didn’t do could begin to change that. It wasn’t about my faith or my doctrine or my theology or my good efforts—it was about God’s love that will always hold me. Because that’s who God is. It doesn’t matter if I believed it or not. It’s an awareness that I have.
I get Nathanael’s epiphany when Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree.” It was simply an epiphany, God’s presence opening something up inside him. He was aware of something he wasn’t aware of before.
If you’re honest, you’ve had those fig-tree moments too. Recognize the presence of God behind them. Share them with someone. You will see greater things than these.