24 August [St Bartholomew]
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.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 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.’
The first three gospels never mention Nathanael, and the fourth gospel never mentions Bartholomew. It is probable, most scholars say, that they were one and the same person under different names. In the first three gospels Bartholomew is always mentioned with Philip, and in the fourth gospel Nathanael is always mentioned with Philip - a further reason to suspect that Bartholomew and Nathanael are one man.
Nathanael was puzzled that Jesus seemed to know him already - and indeed to have a high opinion of him. “Before Philip called you,” Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Palestine is a scorching hot country, and people often had a fig tree growing at the door of their house. Besides fruit it offered shade in the heat. It would be a place to sit and be quiet. It may be that Nathanael had been praying under the fig tree when Jesus spotted him earlier. “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile!” Jesus had said. Our faces, it may be, are never so transparent as when we are praying.
"Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” Jesus said to him. “You will see greater things than these…. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’. You will see the transparency of the Son of Man to God. Not just peace and rest in the shade of a tree, but entry into the counsels of the Father.
What is that to us? It is everything, because everything that is about Jesus is about us too. Sometimes what brings us to meditation is the need for peace and quiet, or the need for a certain openness and transparency. But we can hope for more than this. We can hope to become transparent to our ultimate source, we can hope “to see the angels of God ascending and descending.”
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