Sunday, 18 January 2009

I saw you under the fig tree

Mentmore Sunday 18 January 2009

First Reading

1 Samuel 3.1-10(11-20)

1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4Then the LORD called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. 6The LORD called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ 11Then the LORD said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ 17Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.’

19As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.


John 1.43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And 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.

Readings © NRSV


John’s gospel – baptism last week – John says “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me… I have seen as I testify that this is the Son of God.” Unlike Mark – only Jesus sees the vision. So Jesus identified as Lamb of God.

Then calls his first disciples. First two detached from John the Baptist and followed. One was Andrew. He brought his brother Simon Peter. Jesus called Philip who found Nathaniel. Philip told Nathaniel he had found the Messiah, Jesus from Nazareth. Nathaniel only appears in 4th gospel.

Nathaniel scoffs. Can anything good come from so obscure a place? Surely the Messiah is expected to be from Bethlehem? Philip does not argue – “Come and See.” Our faith is based on relationship with God through Jesus – argument and persuasion rarely prevails – only by personal experience are we persuaded.

Jesus tells Nathaniel – “I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathaniel astounded – confesses “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” Must be more than ‘Weren’t you the one I saw…’ What was Nathaniel doing under the fig tree? Scholars suggest he was meditating and praying. As a good Jew he may have been praying for the coming of the Messiah. He may have had some special encounter with God that caused his confession when Jesus identified him and said he had met him when under the fig tree. There was no further doubt in his mind.

Samuel’s call was far less clear. “The word of God was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” God’s voice calling Samuel in the night was indistinct and easily mistaken. “Was I dreaming?” The answer given to Samuel by Eli was Listen. Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

Too much noise and too many words in our modern lives. Too little listening. Devout Jews might stand in silence for an hour before reciting the Jewish version of the Lord’s Prayer. Nathaniel was obviously listening under the fig tree, and received his answer in the call of Jesus through his friend Philip. But it took Philip to make the call. Is this a call we are prepared to make?

This reminds me of a story about two business associates. One said to the other Why don’t you give up all this church stuff? Why do you say that, he asked? How long have I known you? You asked me to come to your golf club with you and I did. You asked me to come fishing with you and I did. You even asked me to come to a fund raising event for your favourite charity and I did. All these things mean a lot to you. But you’ve never asked me to come to your church, so it can’t be very important to you, can it?

Of course we need to listen more, but we also need to act on what we have heard. The voice we hear might be indistinct, barely audible, and easily mistaken but we need to listen for it. But listening is not enough, because it affects us only. We need to engage – not in academic argument or persuasion, but by inviting others to share the relationship we have with Jesus the Messiah. Jesus says: I saw you under the fig tree and we have to answer, Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

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