John 1:43-51: “Come and See” : Nathanael and the True Blue, Kangaroo, BBQ!
“Under the Southern Cross I stand, a sprig of wattle in my hand, a native of my native land, Australia……..”
This Australia Day some of my friends will make light of recent hoo-ha around sedition/terrorism/ refugee detention/ race riots etc and throw an un-Australian Party (they going to throw some kangaroo/emu on the barby in a symbolic Coat of Arms bbq). Others I know are up for official awards at formal presentations. I was wondering what Nathanael would have been doing for Australia Day had this story taken place in Australia this month!?
John goes out of his way to paint Nathanael as the ridgey-dige, fairdinkum, you beaut, true blue Jew. Unlike Phillip he has a very Jewish name and carries lots of parochial Jewish prejudices; especially when it comes to Nazareth (an out of the way hick town known as a terrorist hideaway). Nathan thinks if he knows Jesus dad and his hometown then he’s got Jesus boxed.
Invited to test his prejudices with “come and see”, Nathanael is big enough to take a journey into reality. And it is he who is immediately dis-armed and “known”! Jesus literally sees him coming and announces Nathanael “as a true Israelite in whom there is no guile.”
Nathanael is taken aback, exposed. Dylan suggests that he asks Jesus literally, “from where do you know me (to be)?” — not meaning, as the NRSV misleadingly suggests “where did you have a chance to get to know me?” or “where have we interacted before?” but rather something more like “what do you believe to be my hometown?”
Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree,” in words reminiscent of Old Testament passages in which this image stands for one’s home (see Malina and Rohrbaugh on this). In other words, Jesus saw Nathanael at home, and therefore knows everything he needs to know about him.
Is he just doing what Nathanael has just done to him?! Is he trying to make an ironic point? Either way, interesting te-ta-te about understanding “from whence” people (and especially Jesus) really come from is important in John as we will see with Nicodemus in Chapter 3.
Beyond surface impressions, titles, backgrounds, where are we “really” coming from?
In his book “Binding the Strong Man,” Ched Myers quotes Telford’s study of the fig tree in the Hebrew Bible which indicates the fig tree was important in the everyday life of Palestine. As the most fruitful of all the trees it was held in high esteem, its fruits being among the principle first fruits to be brought to the sanctuary. He suggests that the fig tree was an emblem of peace, security, and prosperity that is prominent in descriptions of Golden Age’s of Israel’s history; past, present and future.
John the Baptist has just announced he is making Jesus know to Israel (verse 31) and so Nathanael becomes a representative of Israel and is subsequently promised (vs.51) a vision very similar to that of founding father of the nation Jacob (see Genesis 28). Ironically Jacob was an Israelite full of guile!
A bloke called Nathan sitting under a fig tree having Jacob-esque visions…sounds a bit like sitting under the Southern Cross with a sprig of wattle in your hand on Australia Day!
Whatever the “miracle” here in Jesus “knowing” Nathanael (perhaps Jesus has named his politics and his prejudices), the box fits and Nathanael gets it. He confesses that his Messiah is coming from a place he would least expect!
Jesus questions the basis of his belief.
As John will show, like Nicodemus (3:2) we can acknowledge Jesus miracles and not get it. In the same way simply confessing Jesus as Messiah is not enough (see 6:14-15). For Nathanael the call to discipleship will be a journey in giving up a lot of his prejudices, about Nazareth and about what a Messiah is really on about.
All this talk of symbolic trees got me thinking. Throughout the scriptures the blossoming fig tree is symbolic of God’s blessing whereas the withering fig is symbolic of Yahweh’s judgement.
In the Mark 13 Apocalypse we are reminded to observe the “fig tree” as a way of considering the signs of the times.
On Australia Day much is made of the fact that we sit under the ‘fig tree’ of a prosperous economy. I recalled the International Climate Change Conference that Australia hosted earlier this month. (Remember we failed to sign the previous Kyoto protocol). Despite no targets being set, a reduction of 20% of Greenhouse emissions over the next decade or so was expected out of the gathering. That’s a 20% reduction in business as usual which means a huge increase in actual emissions as China and India’s energy consumption rapidly grows. One report I saw suggested some were predicting between a 2 to 4 degree increase in global temperature in the next century….. enough to wither more than a few figs!
Jesus cursed a fig tree before trashing the temple (Mark 11:12-14; 20-22).
I don’t know if this is anything akin to throwing the coat of arms on the bbq on Australia Day but then, as now, our symbols of prosperity need to be judged according to their true fruitfulness.
Seeds Circle Questions
Texts from our World:
Undertake an Implicit Association Test and discuss the results with each other. What surprised you about such?
What are the places that you are sceptical about, that you, your peers or our nation would consider that nothing good could come out of? Upon what are these prejudices based?
Nathanael sits under a fig tree. Telford suggests that The Hebrew bible “on the whole knows very little of non symbolically trees”
Consider Fig Trees in Jer 8:13; Is 28:3f;Hosea 9:10,16; Micah 7:1; Joel 1:7,12. What is the significance of Nathaniel sitting under the fig tree?
How is Nathanael characterised? How does he compare with Jacob in Genesis 28?
How is Israel represented in the rest of John’s gospel?
“Come and see” : Describe times when you have been invited to participate in a community of love, light and truth such as that in John’s gospel. Who invited you? What did you see?
What would it mean for you to test your prejudices? Would you be willing to journey to groups that are different from you like Nathanael? What could such a journey involve?