John 1:43-51 (NRSV)
43 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."
When I was in the fourth grade at Haysville Elementary School, the first grade teacher invited her son, an astronaut, to speak. After his presentation, he asked if there were any questions. I had always dreamed of being a pilot and astronaut. So, I asked, “What do you have to do to become an astronaut?” He told me that excellence in math and science was a prerequisite. Having good eyesight and being a good athlete were also important.
This was not good news. Math and science were my worst subjects. My eyesight was poor and I wore glasses. I was not a natural or gifted athlete. I was a member of the elementary school basketball team but was never allowed to play unless we were losing. Even then, I was only allowed to play the last sixty seconds.
What did you want to be as a child? What were your dreams? These are appropriate questions for any generation. Even during Jesus day when your life was often determined by location, family and status in society, people had dreams and wishes. Take Nathanael for example. He was not one of the prominent disciples. Nathanael was mentioned twice in John, once at his calling by Jesus and later with the other disciples at one of the resurrection appearances.
In spite of his anonymity, I think there is something we can learn from the few verses we read this morning. First, Philip is so excited about Jesus and his ministry that he finds his friend Nathanael to tell him about Jesus. Jesus then finds Nathanael under a fig tree.
So, why is this important? At that time, most people lived in one-room houses. Often, a fig tree was planted in the front of the house, not to improve the landscape or to provide food, but for shelter. A fig tree would often grow to 15 feet tall and its branches could spread out to as much as 25 in width. The branches acted like an umbrella, which created a space for escape and shelter. It was like a detached living space. So, if you wanted to escape the chaos of a one-room house, you would sit under the fig tree. People often went to this private space to meditate, pray or read scripture. It was a sign of yearning, longing and hoping for God’s presence.
Philip must have known that he could find Nathanael under just such a tree and so he ran to tell him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael, being a little skeptical at first says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Ultimately, though, he would proclaim, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Here was a simple man who had spent years longing for the Messiah to come. Suddenly he realizes that he is in the presence of the Son of God. His longing and praying are over. He has waited a lifetime for Jesus and suddenly he is there beckoning Nathanael to follow.
We all have our hopes and dreams. I wanted to be an astronaut but God called me to be a preacher. Whether we are a teacher, engineer, plumber, electrician, architect or preacher, the most important thing we can do is choose to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew were fishermen but they chose to follow when Jesus called. Matthew worked for the IRS and Luke was a physician but they chose to follow when Jesus called. What will you do when Jesus calls?
Lord, I know Jesus is calling me to follow. Melt my heart. Unclench my hands. Open my eyes. Move my feet. Help me follow. Amen.