Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:44-51)
When I was about six years old, my dad was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. During the pretext of a party at my parents’ house one evening, I sensed something odd. Dad was sitting on an ottoman when suddenly a few of his friends whisked him away, and I didn’t see him again for months. Others told me my dad went on a business trip. Yet, adults would talk over my head about his involuntary stint at the mental hospital—how he would stare at his reflection in the mirror for ages and wouldn’t speak to anyone.
I caught on the adults didn’t want me to know and so I pretended I hadn’t overheard, even though what I gathered from their conversations confused, scared and disturbed me. I learned to be an observer—seeing and understanding what went on around me, aware of more than I let on. I noticed details of people’s interactions and honed a discernment of others’ emotions and motivations, but I kept my thoughts to myself and pondered over them.
As I grew older, I got used to keeping my personal thoughts private. I suspected my insight would hurt and threaten others and sensed the preferred modus operandi of most to hide behind masks. Yet, I also felt a keen sense of loneliness holding in my complex inner life.
We all long to be deeply and intimately known. Like Nathanael, we may be amazed to know that Jesus sees us, even when we’re not aware of His presence. We may think no one notices us, yet Jesus always has His eye on us. He sees us when we are sitting alone under the proverbial fig tree, with our secret thoughts and hidden hopes. His loving gaze never leaves us.
Even when we acknowledge Jesus sees us, we may still wonder how well He truly understands us. We may ask, as Nathanael did, “How do you know me?” Especially when we hide our innermost thoughts and feelings because we fear they are unworthy or apt to be misconstrued. We can be open and honest with Jesus because he recognizes our fair and sincere purposes, even if our outward expressions may be clumsy or misguided.
We may also question, along with Nathanael, “Can anything good come from a place and person of seeming petty insignificance?” When Nathanael overcame his initial hesitation and responded to Philip’s invitation to “Come and see,” he found the One who filled his heart to fullness, the One whose piercing insight into the deepest recesses of his soul drew from him the confession, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus culminates his encounter with Nathanael with a promise of the vision of the Son of Man; He offers a self-revelation. Nathanael, who was seen and known by Jesus, was able to truly see Jesus.
We also are seen and known by Jesus. May we like Nathaniel come and see the One who sees and knows us like no other.
— June Chan