“The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” John 1:43-51
I do not want to lose the ground we have covered over the last few years such as our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Also remember our short introduction to deification and now our study of the Gospel of John in which we a just finishing up chapter 1. No one is born a Christian by natural birth, it requires rather a birth from above. Christians are made when a person is baptized in the Name of the Trinity. Baptism, as by an instrument, grafts us into Christ himself and thus we are said to participate in his life. “Grafting in” is frequently called regeneration and it happens every time a child or an adult is baptized. The efficacy, the power, the potency of Holy Baptism is not in the merit or the holiness of the priest who is baptizing nor the person being baptized. Its power is entirely based on the promise of Jesus who said in so many words, “Do this, this way and this is what I will do.” That is our beginning and through that beginning the heavenly virtues of faith, hope, and love are infused into our life. The horizon of Jesus the Messiah has been freely given to you. Living as Christians therefore is a matter of attentively, intentionally and responsibly entering more and more deeply into Jesus’ horizon; which is a pure gift from God. We begin to see the world of men and things the way Jesus sees the world. We value what Jesus values. We make his ultimate concern our ultimate concern, which includes behaving the way he wants us to behave — all that comes through ever deepening conversions in faith, hope and love.
How should we, the Church, and her children behave in a world that does not share our horizon? We are always growing into Jesus’ horizon and that knits us together and fosters our growth corporately and individually. As we authentically share Jesus’ horizon we are converted. The world knows nothing of Christian conversion. The world is forever reducing Jesus’ horizon and Christian conversion to moralism. But there are plenty of people in the world, including atheists, who live moral lives. Christian behavior in the Church as well as in the world may be summed up as an imitation of Christ. And according to our Lord and his Apostles behavior is an external signifier, a sign of one’s interior life. Our imitation Jesus the Messiah is not a flat, tedious exercise. It is a state of being, a state of true participation. But how is that possible?
Our participation in God’s life is possible because he has assumed our human nature, body and all, into his life. The human nature that our Lord Jesus Christ receive from the Blessed Virgin Mary, even after even after his crucifixion, even after his resurrection, even after his Ascension remains human nature: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The flesh of our Lord, his humanity, our humanity, was perfected by being knit into the divine life of the Word; by participation in the life of the Word all the wounds of the Fall were healed — but Jesus’ humanity was not made more than human nor was he made less than human. Grace perfects nature, grace perfects human nature, grace does not annihilate human nature and that divine principle shined the brightest when the Word was made Flesh. And this brings us back to the Gospel of John. Nine months after the Word was made flesh as a little conceptus in the womb of his mother, the Son of the Father was born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Then thirty some years later Jesus was baptized by John in spite of John’s protest of its inappropriateness. After spending the evening with Jesus, Andrew, a former disciple of the Baptist, found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus and upon meeting him Jesus gave him the nickname Peter which means stone. Then we have the last scene of chapter 1 which is our text for today:
“The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1: 43-45
We quickly learn that the disciple’s inquiry into the whereabouts of Jesus’ home is not as simple as finding a street address. In fact, at this moment in the narrative there is no permanent address for the Son of God. Jesus is a nomad. People knew where to find John the Baptist; he could be found at the Jordan preaching the Kingdom of God and baptizing Jews for repentance of sin. But Jesus has no home:
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Luke 9:58
There will be a home, there will be an earthly home where you may find Jesus, but that is not yet.
Now the first fruits — Andrew, Peter, and an unnamed disciple — were produced by the preaching and testimony of John the Baptist. After spending the evening somewhere within walking distance of the Jordan, Jesus traveled into Galilee and there he found Philip and he plainly called him to follow him right then and there. Here is the vocation of a disciple — to follow. Through out the Scriptures we see that there are men who seek for God and find him. There was a man name Jairus, a ruler of the Jews, who sought out Jesus. Nicodemus, another leader of the Jews, sought Jesus by night. And after his resurrection and Pentecost, there was a Roman soldier named Cornelius who sought out Peter to tell him, his family, and his friends the message and meaning of Jesus. But other times God finds the man. “I have found David my servant; with holy oil have I anointed him.” In this manner Jesus found Philip and at once he threw it down: “Follow me!” and he followed him immediately. The words of Christ straightway kindled an interior fire of love in Philip’s heart, and whatever he was doing at the time, he put it down and follow Jesus.
Philip was from Bethsaida which also happened to be the home town of Andrew and Simon Peter. The word Bethsaida means “the house of the hunters,” and that meaning shows forth the discipleship of Philip, Peter, and Andrew. In fact I submit to you that Andrew’s and Philip’s eagerness to bring their brothers to Christ is the sign and evidence of their perfect conversion. Like hunters they are said to have found their brothers and then they brought them to Christ.
“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”
Nathanael obviously loved and respected his brother because he seems to have dropped whatever he was doing and followed him back to where Jesus and his disciples were waiting. And then upon seeing Nathanael, Jesus declared that the man approaching along side his brother Philip was a guileless, innocent Jew.
“How do you know me?” is a perfectly respectful question to ask Jesus and I submit to you that it is authentically humble. It is high praise indeed for the man your brother has told you is the Messiah of Israel to say, in earshot of oneself and other people, that you are a truly virtuous man. And yet Nathanael, not in false humility, but guilelessly, almost naively thought this praise to be overstated. “How do you know me?” Our Lord then answered him in kind; that is simply, straightforwardly, even innocently:
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”
As you can see, Nathanael was immediately converted to Jesus. Literally, historically Jesus told Nathanael where he had been before Philip called him, namely that he was under a fig tree. Jesus knew this because he was not merely the Son of Mary, but he was also the Son of God. He was not merely a Jew of flesh and blood, but he was also the Logos who has come into this world of space and time from the bosom of his Father. He is true God from true God and right here we have recorded the first instance of his divinity flashing forth. Nathanael knew that Jesus knew something that no one should know:
“Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.”
Jesus then pointed Nathanael to a greater thing, to a greater knowledge of his identity:
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Jesus is Lord of the Universe and his reign is not circumscribed by the Nation of Israel. Not only is Jesus Lord over all creation, over all space, but he is Lord over all time as well. When Nathanael came to Jesus he told him what literally happened in the past, in his personal history — he had been under a fig tree. But then Jesus revealed to him the future, his own as well as Nathanael’s future. Nathanael, presumably in the company of the guileless, would see Heaven open up and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Literally, historically our Lord is telling Nathanael that this will happened to him in the near future. Also literally they would have seen such as sight on the Mount of Olives when Jesus entered his Passion:
“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” Luke 22:39-44
But there is a mystical meaning here as well. Jacob, the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham, was in the wilderness running for his life and he was weary and he made a camp. He found a great stone and he rested his head upon the stone and fell asleep and as he slept he had a dream. And in his dream he saw a ladder that was set up at his camp and it reached up to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending upon the ladder. When Jacob woke up he took the stone he had used as a pillow and he anointed it with oil and he named that place “Bethel” which means “the house of God.” The mystical meaning for the Church is that Christ is Jacob’s Ladder, Christ is the Rock, the Church’s one Foundation Stone, and Christ is the House of God, the Temple of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”