January 5, 2018
(St. John Neumann, Bishop)
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jn_1:43-51
As a point of reference for this interaction between Nathanael and Jesus, we need to look back to the Patriarch Jacob, who was given the name Israel by God. Remember Jacob was the second-born twin of their father Isaac, who was the son of Abraham.
With the help of his mother, Rebecca, who favored Jacob over his brother Esau, Jacob tricked his father into giving him the birthright blessing that belonged to Esau. So we might say that Jacob, later to be named Israel, was a man of duplicity. And it took quite a bit of work to bring him from that state, of what John would call, “devoid of life and devoid of God,” to becoming the Patriarch of a Nation.
Yet, there, on the other hand, Jesus sees a wisdom inherent in Nathanael, and a total lack of duplicity: when Nathanael freely referred to people from Nazareth as the scum of the earth.
But, somewhere in the back of his mind, wise, Nathanael also remembered that quote from Isaiah the Prophet, mentioning that a shoot, or in Hebrew, a “netzer” from the stump of Jesse would blossom into a Messiah. And he would instinctively know that the town of Nazareth was named after that netzer.
He would also know that the Hebrew symbolism of “sitting under a fig tree” represented the messianic peace that the Prophet Micah spoke of. And between all of these symbols and the excitement of his good friend Philip, Nathanael was convinced that Jesus was that promised Messiah.
Yet, Jesus was still not done with His explanation. And this is where we go back to the Patriarch Jacob again. For you see, after Jacob and his mom realized that Esau was out for blood, because of their duplicity, Jacob made a hasty retreat, as far away as he could get from his huntsman.
And there on his long and lonesome journey, Jacob falls asleep on a rock, and has a dream. And in his sleep, he saw: “a stairway resting on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it.
And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying: I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.
Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south.
In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing. I am with you and will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.“ Gn_28:12-15
And here is Jesus, as the fulfillment of that promise to Jacob, announcing to Nathanael, the non-duplicitous Israelite, and to His early disciples, that it is HE who is that Ladder uniting heaven with earth. And it is through Jesus that we will move from the peaceful shade of a fig tree into the eternal peace of heaven.
And yet, keep in mind, that it IS a “ladder,” and it is up to us to take it’s steps. It’s not an escalator, nor an elevator.
And with every painful step we take, in this world; with every challenge we face, Jesus will be there at our side. But WE have to take the action to show His love, and not expect it to come without cost. WE have to climb that ladder.
St. John Neumann was a noble example of bringing Christ into his early 19th century world. Immigrating to the U.S. at 20-years old from Bohemia, John became a Redemptorist priest in western New York. He learned to converse in six additional languages, and served in missionary work across the country. He became the 4th Bishop of Philadelphia. He built eighty Churches and founded the Catholic School system in our country – all out of his intense Love for God, and all within his short 59-years of life.
St. John, the Gospel writer, tells us today, “to let us love, not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” 1_Jn_3:11-21 Jesus IS the Truth and it’s our hands and our feet that make this climb with Him – all worth the effort.
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