A friend of mine went to his wife’s ten-year high school reunion this past weekend. Mostly, reunions of this sort are terrible. It is a bunch of people who likely are no longer friends getting together to pretend they are friends. And to boast. Oh yeah, isn’t that one big, exaggerated part of reunions? You want to have the best looking date and best looking car and best looking hair—you want to show everyone that the mistakes you made at 17 didn’t define you, by golly.
The cool part about these reunions, though, and the thing that people talk about after the reunion are all the big changes:
Can’t believe Mark lost his hair!
Did you see Meredith’s ring!
Booger really got his life together . . . (I mean, come on, doesn’t every high school have a kid called “Booger” in it? And isn’t it always a surprise when you find out, years later, that Booger is gainfully employed and actually named Brian or some such thing?)
We marvel at the changes, sometimes forgetting that change is natural. Especially change over time. In ten years, I will have different relationships, views, spending habits, even nicknames. Changes happen over time—the more time, the more changes. Imagine how that thirty-year reunion will look, for instance.
Even with the time, changes are noteworthy. Subtract the time component, though, and they are really jaw-dropping. Usually these sorts of changes are accompanied by accidents or arrests (or both). Or perhaps, eyes connect, love blooms, and someone finally finds themselves in another—and then doggedly pursuing another. I guess it can happen in all sorts of ways, but it is a rare thing. Changes usually take time.
So what happened under that fig tree? That’s what I want to know.
In John 1, Nathanael is told about a man named Jesus who may be a pretty big deal. “He’s a big deal,” said Philip—or, at least, something of the sort.
Nathanael quipped back: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
So he was profiling pretty hard. A person from that town, no thanks. Maybe Nathanael was a pretty cruel guy, or maybe he had a great sense of humor and was cracking a joke using the exact formula our own comedians employ: find a place that the audience considers terrible/backward/uneducated and rip on that place. Whatever his motive was, his feelings were pretty clear: This Jesus is nothing special.
But he went with Philip because why wouldn’t you? I mean, it was a different era, right? There were no smart phones to bury yourself in, no movies, no Kindles . . . it is likely that when diversions to the routine occurred, one was unlikely to turn that down. This Jesus, for all the things he probably wasn’t, probably was worth a look. Who knows, maybe he’d say some crazy stuff or do some funny things . . . why not take a look?
So Nathanael strutted along to meet this Jesus, a Nazareth hillbilly who was claiming to be God. Just another Tuesday. And Nathanael goes from thinking the whole thing a joke to saying this: “Teacher, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
What?! What just happened? Nathanael goes from making fun of Jesus to heaping praise on him. Was hypnotism involved or is this all just a goofy lie that proves John’s account is pretty suspect?
What happened in-between there, the bit that caused the change, is sacred knowledge. Jesus held sacred knowledge of something in Nathanael’s life. He says, without having any natural ability to be able to say such a thing, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
That’s it. That little bit of information turned Nathanael’s passions, trajectory, worldview; it all changed just like that.
So I don’t know. I don’t know if it was a “what happens under the fig tree stays under the fig tree” sort of thing, but for some reason it impacted Nathanael deeply. Perhaps Nathanael had been weeping for a loss under that tree? Maybe he had hit rock bottom and was drowning in the purposelessness of life? He could have just had a bad break up? Maybe he was injured? Perhaps he was calling out—as most of us have at some point of life—for God to show Himself if He were real?
We may never know, but we have the results: “You are the Son of God.”
Jesus somehow met Nathanael in a way that only made sense to Nathanael himself, and therefore was only beautiful, was only sacred, to Him alone. This is what made Jesus not just another god, but a personal God, an intimate friend to Nathanael.
CS Lewis portrays Christ as a lion named Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia series. In A Horse and His Boy, Aslan walks with a boy called Shasta and the following conversation ensues:
“How do you know?” [asked the boy]
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis [girl companion of Shasta]. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself”, loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself”, whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.
“I tell no one any story but his own . . .” Perhaps that is what unlocked Nathanael’s heart. The information was the lone key that fit the stubborn lock. We may not know the details of the interaction, but we can surmise that Jesus claims to be a God that holds the keys. He meets us where we are because the door is never locked to him. We all have fig tree moments—whatever they might be—and he sees us there, under the fig tree, and he calls out to us. Sometimes loudly and sometimes in a whisper. And when we get up and go to him, when we meet his face, we’ll find he was with us all along, “The Son of God; the King of Israel.”