Reflection on John 1.43-51 (12th Day of Christmas, 5 January)

John 1.43-51 

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip 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 said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 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.’ 


Nathanael said to him: Where did you come to know me?

In Psalm 139 we read these words: O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away … Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. These powerful words offer an answer to Nathanael’s question to Jesus, just as they offer us a reminder of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God in this world.

In earlier times, I used to teach Philosophy and Ethics. One of the modules I taught was entitled The Nature of God. Within that module students were invited to consider God in terms of four ‘omni-’ words: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence and omnipresence. Omnipotence referred to God as being all-powerful; omniscience considered God as being all-knowing; omnibenevolence invited reflection upon the all-loving nature of God; omnipresence reminded us that God is present everywhere at all times.

Today’s reading is a powerful reminder of reality of those four  qualities of God. Having added Philip to the growing company of disciples, Jesus then reveals an acquaintance with Nathanael that is bewildering to Nathanael himself. He would have known the words of Psalm 139, but here are those words in action. In his amazement, and confusion, Nathanael proclaims: Rabbi, you are the Son of God! Then, Jesus promises that he, and all who commit themselves to a life of discipleship, will see greater things.

As we prepare to leave the liturgical season of Christmas and move into Epiphany, which begins with the coming of the wise men, let us pause and consider the message of recent days. On Christmas Day we celebrated the Nativity of Jesus, the Son of God. That miraculous birth was celebrated by the company of heaven, in the form of angels, and by ordinary people, the shepherds on the hillside. We have also seen the first disciples stepping out of their ordinary lives and trusting Jesus’ call to follow him. Already we are witnessing the omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence and omnipresence of God through the words and actions of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that we might learn the absolute truth of the words of Psalm 139 as we place our lives in the hands of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world … the one who is the Son of God.