In the early part of the Gospel of John, there’s a story about Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel, one of the first disciples. Nathaniel, after hearing about Jesus from Philip, goes to find out what all the fuss is about.
As the story goes, Jesus sees Nathaniel coming and proclaims him to be a “true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit” and then goes on to describe how he “saw”—without being present—Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip invited him to meet Jesus.
What the whole fig tree thing has to do with Nathaniel’s lack of deceit is certainly an interesting topic for speculation, but it’s the next bit in the story that holds particular fascination:
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.”John 1:49-50, NRSV
It seems Nathaniel is immediately fascinated by Jesus’ clairvoyant vision. Apparently, for Nathaniel (at least as far as the writer of John is concerned), the primary qualification for messiahship is the ability to overcome the laws of nature.
When you think about it, it’s kind of ridiculous. In a time when Israel was desperate for God to intervene on its behalf against the Roman Empire, Nathaniel, “a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” seems to think a magic trick is all it takes to prove Jesus is indeed the long-awaited leader who will lead the nation out of its long-repeated cycle of exile.
But do we do the same thing? Is the primary reason to follow Jesus his ability to perform miracles?
Or is there something more? Are there “greater things than these” we should be paying attention to?
This week at New Wineskins, we’ll mark the traditional observance of Epiphany by discussing what it might mean for us to come to the realization that the miracles aren’t the point…that it’s not Jesus’ power over nature (including, of course, death) that makes him worth following, but the power of love itself to transform people’s lives.
Join us this Sunday, Jan. 9, in the New Wineskins Virtual Pub as we discuss the epiphanies we all have that enlighten and empower us to break through systems and structures of oppression with relational love borne out of Divine presence.
6:00pm EST: Happy Half-Hour (informal meet & greet time)
6:30pm EST: Presentation & conversation begin