“Rabbi, You Are The Son Of God, The King Of Israel!”
The Gospel story of the vocation of Peter and Andrew is quickly followed by the call of two other disciples, Philip and Nathanael. This vocation story contains a gem of God’s revelation – Jesus, the way to the Father.
Philip was a native of Bethsaida, and a Galilean like Andrew. Nathanael may have been from there too, as he was Philip’s friend, and his name is usually linked with Philip’s. However in the other Gospels he is called Bartholomew. These two may also have been disciples of John the Baptist.
When Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the Messiah, and that he is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, Nathanael is openly scornful: “Can anything good come from Nazareth ?” But Jesus’s words of welcome change Nathanael’s attitude completely: “Here is a true Israeli; there’s nothing false about him.” Curious, Nathanael probes further: “How do you know me?” he asks. Jesus’s reply startles him: “Even before Philip spoke to you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
We don’t know what it was that Jesus was referring to, but it must have been an important secret and something significant to Nathanael, for the young man bursts out with a confession of faith: “Teacher, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.”
He has no doubt anymore that this ordinary Nazarene is greater than he appears to be.
Nathanael’s faith has been motivated by the revelation of his secret, but Jesus tells him that he will be led to even greater faith. And he alludes to a significant episode in Israel’s history, when Jacob, their great ancestor, in flight from his brother Esau, received a vision of a ladder going up to heaven, and angels ascending and descending upon it. What Jesus is saying is this, “I am this ladder. I am this stairway by which God comes down to mankind, and man goes up to God. I am the gate of heaven, the way to the Father.”
Much later in John’s Gospel, Jesus will describe himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” But already here, at the beginning, we are given an insight into who Jesus is and what his mission is, and blessed are we, who like Nathanael and his friends, are privileged in faith to see such great things.
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