Philip said to Nathanael: Come and see.
Before considering what message Philip’s words to Nathanael may carry for us today, it will be of benefit, I feel, to fill in a little of the background to the reading we have heard from the beginning of John’s gospel.
- Nathanael is the personal name of Bartholomew, who is listed among the twelve apostles in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
- Nathanael lived in the small village of Cana.
- Nathanael was an earnest and sincere Jew, who was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Another feature of the encounter between Jesus and Nathanael that it would be good to clarify concerns the role of the fig tree.It was quite normal for orthodox Jews to sit in the shade of the family fig tree when they wished to be quiet; when they wished to pray.
Our gospel reading opens with Philip’s own call into discipleship, and quickly moves into Philip sharing the excitement of that call with his friend, Nathanael.
Both men have been disciples of John the Baptist, and now, in his excitement, Philip is telling his friend: We have found him about whom Moses … and … the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth.
Knowing the region well, Nathanael wonders if it could possibly be true that anything good could come out of Nazareth, and Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’
There follows an amusing exchange between Jesus and Nathanael, at the heart of which Nathanael recognizes Jesus for who he really is: the Son of God … the King of Israel.
Then Jesus promises: Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
These words of Jesus are important for two reasons.
To understand the first reason we have to draw a comparison between written and spoken English and New Testament Greek.
- In English, the word you can be either singular or plural … not so in New Testament Greek.
- In the original Greek the version of you employed by Jesus is definitely plural.
Jesus’ very personal exchange with Nathanael turns into a promise for us all … we will all see greater things, and we will all see heaven opened.
Then comes Jesus’ reference to Jacob’s ladder.
- In Genesis, chapter 28, we read of Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and earth … a ladder with angels passing up and down.
- In the final words of today’s reading, Jesus is saying: ‘Now you are looking at him of whom that ladder was just a picture’ … ‘You are in the presence of him who is the link between heaven and earth.’
So, having unpacked some of the more subtle details in today’s gospel reading, we need to consider what message it holds for us today, in January 2021.
The reading opens with the familiar words of Jesus’ call into discipleship: Follow me.
In our reading the words are said to Philip, but they are meant for Nathanael as well, and … they are meant for us too.
Like us, when we come to hear that two-word call, Nathanael expressed amazement, uncertainty and doubt.
But … Nathanael’s friend offered reassurance and companionship when he said: Come and see.
How often do we share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and then hold the hands of those who are uncertain?
How often do we say: Come and see ?
And then … Jesus promises that we will see greater things because he has created an unbreakable ladder between heaven and earth.
What are we doing to ensure and secure our place on that ladder?
As modern, sophisticated adults we waste so much time trying to rationalize our faith.
Let us stop wasting that time!
Let us open our ears for Jesus’ call to follow him.
Let us take his hand as he says: Come and see.
Let us join the boy Samuel in saying: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
Let us pray that we may see Jesus as the Son of God.
Let us set off on that exciting journey where we will, indeed, see greater things. Amen.