The call of Nathanael in John is one of the lesser known calls of the disciples, and yet it speaks volumes to our times. It is a call to a new future – beyond self.
Jesus calls Philip, who accepts the call to follow. Philip then 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 says to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Later Jesus and Nathanael cross paths and Jesus acts as if he knows Nathanael. In bewilderment, Nathanael asks, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answers, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
In that, Nathanael believes and follows Christ. This troubles Jesus. “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
How have we fallen victim to the “wow-factor” of religion? Do we find Christ appealing because of his past accomplishments or his present reality? Are we looking to the future or to the past? This was the disciples’ problem at the Transfiguration, and it continues to be the struggle of the Church. It is natural to hold on to the past.
There is no doubt that Jesus’ miracles changed lives. But Jesus did not focus on the past. He did not run around and say, “Well, like I said at the Wedding at Cana…..” He said, “Come and see.” The true miracle was yet to be revealed.
Indeed, today we continue to struggle. There is a place for looking back – to the miracles or even to the cross – but there is also much to look forward to. How is Christ at work right here? Right now? Are we ready for Christ to come again? Are we looking forward to that great heavenly banquet at which all are invited? Or are we stuck on our own pasts, and unable to hope and dream?
This is the struggle of the Christian life. It is one of “already and not yet.” We live in the tension of the beyond, seeking a life in Christ that will break us open and change us forever. And yet we secretly don’t want Christ to change us too much or to open us too much. Secretly we like our lives the way they are.
But Jesus calls us to a new future – a new reality – beyond ourselves – beyond perhaps anything we can imagine.