Toda’s Gospel tells the story of how a man named Nathaniel became a disciple of Jesus. In telling us this story St. John had more in mind than just giving us the facts of how the man was called. He told us this story because it contains lessons for us. So, let’s go back over it to find what those lessons are.
Philip sought out his friend Nathaniel to give him wonderful news. Phillip said, “We have found the one Moses and the prophets spoke about. It is Jesus of Nazareth.” To that Nathaniel replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Now, Nathaniel was wrong about that: something wonderful had come out of Nazareth. What are we to learn from Nathaniel’s hasty dismissal of the possibility that good could come from Nazareth? This story might be telling us not to underrate or sell short people just because they are close and familiar to us.
Nathaniel let Phillip bring him before Jesus who said, “Here is a true child of Israel, there is no duplicity in him.” Those words of Jesus have a hidden connection with Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob was also known as Israel, and on two occasions he showed great duplicity. The first time was when he tricked his near-blind father into giving him the eldest son’s portion, when he was only the second son. The other time was when he tricked his father-in-law into giving him a great number of sheep.
Apart from that Old Testament reference, the story tells us that Jesus prizes honest straight-forward behavior. The story pleads with me to be honest. It has me checking myself for ways in which I am not completely honest.
Nathaniel asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” And Jesus said “Before Phillip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
That made an immense impression on Nathaniel. He blurted out, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Nathaniel’s strong response to Jesus saying he saw him under the fig tree makes us think that Nathaniel had thought that he was alone with God under that fig tree. Jesus had to be God to know what Nathaniel was saying under that tree.