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 toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get 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.”
This is the Gospel selection for the second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, January 14, 2018. It is important as it offers a different view (than that of Matthew and Mark) of Jesus finding his first disciples.
As an Epiphany reading, the intent is to promote a personal understanding that the rebirth of Jesus within a believer (the Christmas story retold) means everything about that new Christian is known by God and Christ. We become the messenger that was Philip, who goes to spread the Gospel to those we know and love. For Andrew it was his brother Simon (to be called Peter by Jesus). For Philip it was his friend Bartholomew (to be named as Nathanael by John).
A personal Epiphany continues when one then understands why John’s naming Nathanael is a sign of one’s own pending name change, which follows the birth of baby Jesus within us on Christmas. The name Nathanael is rooted in Hebrew, meaning “Gift of God.” Because the other Gospel writers named him Bartholomew, his being called “Gift of God” indicates a spiritual renaming. Jesus knew Bartholomew was such a gift.
In the election of Cardinals to the position of pope, it has been routine to take on a name befitting of that position. The official names a pope assumes is called a regnal name or reign name. The designation as regal means the popes are the embodiments of Christ the King. While all Apostles and Saints are the embodiment of Jesus Christ (and not all popes), the same principle applies to the disciples of Jesus, who had dual names.
A new disciple of Christ, who has been approached by Jesus (as was Nathanael) will have this encounter spiritually. Jesus will near because the testimony of a brother or friend has made one willing to know more. Once a disciple has met Jesus, Jesus tells the new self he has been born anew into, “I saw you [as fallen fruit] before [you were] called.” This indicates a predisposition to become righteous; and this is how ordained priests are questioned about how they were called to the priesthood.
As none of the disciples of Jesus were schooled beyond their Jewish fathers and rabbis, anyone who is called by God will respond without any thoughts of entering seminary school. The inner voice will lead one in God’s service appropriately. As such, Jesus then tells the individual (in whispers coming from the Christ Mind), “You will see greater things than [you have seen in your past]. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
That is the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon a disciple who has become married to God. Just as the archangel Michael came to the Virgin Mother and prophesied the coming of the most holy, the Son of God, Apostles-to-be are given the same promise. The same stairway to heaven that was seen by Jacob will become a Saint’s reality, through one’s newfound abilities to communicate with God.
While the Christmas story is of the new birth of Christ within a believer, the Advent stories are of the growth of that infant Spirit to delivery. Epiphany is when the joy sent to one’s personal world drives one to do the necessary work of a committed disciple of Jesus. One follows the teachings of Jesus and discerns the deeper meaning of those lessons. One begins to live a righteous lifestyle.
When that happens (the meaning of “Advent” is “Arrival, Coming” or “Happens”) a Saint will have secured a place in heaven, as the Holy Spirit will bring down instructions to follow and an Apostle will send up prayers for the deliverance of others (the angels of God ascending and descending). All this Happening will be because one has become pregnant with the Son of Man, preparing to give birth to another Jesus Christ in the world.
The personal Epiphany in this lesson is Jesus being seen as saying to each and every individual who reads this Scripture or hears it read aloud, “Follow me.” Two thousand years after the physical coming and going of the man that was Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, it is impossible to walk in the footsteps along the path taken by Jesus the Messiah, as could Philip, Andrew, Peter, Nathanael and John the Beloved (all the followers of Jesus). “Follow me” means to be the Christ incarnate when Jesus returns as you.
To become Jesus Christ reborn, one has to be “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” That means a one is a chosen priest who serves only the One God, with no pretense or false agendas. A Saint then becomes the embodiment of a new kingdom ruled by Son of God, the King of Israel.
Seeing Nathanael (a Hebrew name meaning a Gift of God) like the fruit of the fig tree, the fig tree multiplies through its fruit. One fig makes a tasty snack; but a fig tree feeds many. A grove of fig trees feeds many more. One could try to name every fig that comes from one fig tree, but they would still all be figs.
In the same way, you can name every Apostle who comes as the fruit of God’s everlasting vine (or tree) Nathanael, but within that body would still be the reborn Christ … the DNA of righteousness. Just as fig seeds duplicate fig trees, God reproduces His Son through all of His holy wives. All Apostles were virgins to God, before the miracle birth they would experience. Bartholomew was one in the long lineage that is true Christianity. The call is to “Follow” as Nathanael … another Gift of God.