Reading: John 1.47-51
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 final verse of today’s reading refers us back to the book of Genesis. In Genesis, chapter 28, we read of the dream that Jacob had as he was fleeing the wrath of his brother, Esau. In that dream Jacob saw a ladder with its foot on the ground and its top reaching into heaven. God’s angels were going up and down the ladder. In his dream, Jacob was standing beside the Lord himself, and he was promised that the day would come when he would be able to return to his homeland in peace and prosperity.
This recollection of the book of Genesis seems out of place, coming as it does, at the beginning of John’s gospel. Like many such short passages of scripture, it is often glossed over, but it is important and deserves some attention.
The important point about Jacob’s ladder is that it demonstrates the constant presence of God in our lives. Coming at the end of the chapter which famously describes Jesus as ‘the Word’ becoming flesh and living among us, this reference to Jacob’s ladder can be seen as a direct reference to a promise fulfilled.
Today’s reading opens with Jesus demonstrating his remarkable insight in respect of Nathanael, but it ends on a totally different scale. Jesus is telling his disciples that the promised connection between heaven and earth is about to be thrown wide open. Furthermore, at the beginning of John’s gospel, in this encounter with Nathanael, we are being told that if we commit ourselves to travelling as a companion of Jesus it will be as though we are already in God’s house. Not only will we be in God’s house, but we should know that, like Jacob, we will experience God’s presence alongside us at all times.
Every day of our lives brings new challenges, and not just during times of pandemic. As we face those challenges, let us remember the image Jesus gives to Nathanael and his other disciples at the beginning of the gospel narrative. Let us then speak with God and trust in his guidance and love.
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