Since April 2020, I have been jointly hosting a shared Lectio group on Tuesday evenings. The following are my reflections only, during the prayer session and as I wrote them up. Please see my separate commentary and leaflet for more information about shared Lectio, and here is the whole collection of reflections…
Gospel reading: John 1.47-51
Words: heaven opened then coming towards
First: the contrast of the earthiness of the fig tree and the transcendence of heaven. The earthiness of the fig tree of Nathanael’s home, under which he has grown up and sheltered since his youth, rooted in the soil and producing its fruit in due season. The transcendence of heaven opening and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Or perhaps the earthiness and transcendence are as one, ref William Blake’s tree full of angels. So Nathanael will see angels ascending and descending on the figure of Jesus on the tree of crucifixion.
For now, Nathanael went towards Jesus, was drawn to approach him despite himself. And Jesus saw him, knew him through and through, and could see no deceit in him.
How wonderful it would be to have no deceit in me!
I have plenty of nooks and crannies, and Jesus sees into these too. But Nathanael is completely transparent, completely open to Jesus and to being seen. And because he is completely open, he is able to receive and see Jesus in return: ‘[Y]ou are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ he exclaims, well before Peter’s confession of the Christ (see Matthew 16.13-20, Mark 8.27-30, Luke 9.18-20).
Nathanael recognises Jesus as God and King right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, framing or book ending it together with Thomas’ confession in John 20. There are interesting similarities and divergences.
Compare Jesus’ words to Nathanael: ‘Do you believe because I saw you?’ with his words to Thomas: ’Have you believed because you have seen me?’ Nathanael believed because Jesus saw him. Thomas believed because he saw Jesus.
Jesus has a slightly stinging follow-up for Thomas: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ but he promises Nathanael: ‘You will see greater things than these.’
Does this mean that Nathanael is one of the blessed? He is certainly promised much… but then he simply disappears from John’s Gospel and only reappears in passing in Chapter 21. He doesn’t appear at all in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts, unless he is the same person as Bartholomew, who in any case only appears in lists.
I find myself wondering when and where Nathanael would have seen these ‘greater things’? Would it have been…
- during Jesus’ earthly ministry?
- in the crucifixion of Jesus and his death?
- in the resurrection appearances?
- at his own death?
- or perhaps whenever he saw a fig tree?