Monday, September 28, 2015

John 1:43-51

This passage is found in Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany 2, Year B (Most recently, Jan 18, 2015).  It also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 (Most recently Jan 5, 2014).
 
Summary:   This is a great passage, as are all passages from John's Gospel.  I want to play around with the OT imagery found in John and go out on a limb, a fig limb that is.  The first time we hear of figs is in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve adorn themselves, out of shame, with fig leaves.  The fig tree reminds us of human shame but also God's abundance.  It is fitting that Jesus finds a new disciple underneath a fig tree because this is where we find ourselves.  At the crossroads of sin and mercy.  It also reminds us of Jesus' purpose as the gardener:  To usher us into a new garden brought about by the cross of sin and mercy.

Key words:
ακολουθει  ("follow"; vs. 43)  This means follow.  Jesus here puts his invitation so gently.  Most times "follow me" texts are associated with the cross and temptation.  Here we simply have a friendly "come and stop by my house if you get a chance" kind of invitation!

ερχομαι & οραω (1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 11:34, 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see").  These two verbs come together a number of times in John's Gospel. A quite impressive list actually:
A) When Jesus begins his ministry
B) When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C) When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb
D) When they find Jesus on the cross
E) When they come to the empty tomb.

John's Gospel invites us to come and see, even Jesus on the cross and finally the empty tomb.  The result of coming and seeing is believing.

συκη ("fig tree"; vs 1.48 and 50).  The Bible contains numerous references to fig trees.  Jesus preaches parables on them.  Metaphors about the end times allude to the both the weakness of the fig leaves but also the bounty of figs.  As the NET Bible notes:  "Many have speculated about what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. Meditating on the Messiah who was to come? A good possibility, since the fig tree was used as shade for teaching or studying by the later rabbis (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 5:11). Also, the fig tree was symbolic for messianic peace and plenty (Mic 4:4, Zech 3:10; You shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.)"

I have a more "out there" connection.  It is clear that John 1 drips with OT references.  Nathaniel calls Jesus the king of Israel.  Alone in this pericope, Jesus declares himself to the be son of Man with angels descending on him.  This calls to mind all sorts of OT passages, including Jacob's ladder.  So I venture that the fig tree here is a reference to figs in the garden of Eden.  Where do we find ourselves?  In a broken world covered by fragments of God's mercy.  God intends better than fragments; indeed, heaven's gate is reopened in Jesus Christ; the Garden's door is no longer barred by a flaming sword.

Grammar concept:  Present tense in John's Gospel.

The present tense often signifies repeated action, in contrast to the aorist tense.  The produces some very nice theological conclusions.  For example, "follow me" is in the present tense in vs 43, ακολουθω.  The idea is that we are to keep following Jesus.  It doesn't work as well in vs 43, however, with the verb "find", ευρισκω.  This is also in the present tense. Does Jesus keep finding Philipp?  It seems unlikely within the context of the story, although it makes for a very nice sermon point ;-)  Sometimes it is hard to know, when John is simply being poetic and when he is deeply theological. 

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