UNDER THE TREE

 

in the forest

Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’

 

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli…Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him…

IN THE STORY about Samuel, we are told that visons were rare in his time and so was the word of יהוה (the Lord or, perhaps better, the One Who Is). Samuel had been serving יהוה in the temple at Shiloh since early childhood, as his mother Hannah had promised the High Priest Eli that he would. Yet, until the voice of יהוה disturbed him at night, we are to understand that Samuel did not know יהוה. Of course he already knew much about יהוה but he had no relationship with יהוה. As the story moves on, we hear that, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground”.
Meanwhile, in John’s gospel we are told that when Jesus was introduced to Nathaniel by his new disciple Philip, Jesus showed Nathaniel that he already knew him. He knew him because he had “seen” him sitting under a fig tree. Straight away Nathaniel realised that Jesus was the Messiah. Why? What’s going on here?
The fig tree was significant to people of ancient Judaic faith as a sacred place, a place for meditation, just like the yew and the oak for Celts. Nathaniel realised that Jesus and the Christ he met in his contemplative prayer under the fig tree were one and the same. Standing before him now in flesh and blood was יהוה and יהוה was letting Nathaniel know that יהוה knew him through that practice.
Much religion misfires because, like a person serving יהוה in the temple, learning about יהוה doesn’t necessarily mean that we come to know יהוה. Much prayer is offered up to a God that is somewhere else, cosmic perhaps, but not here. This is sometimes called functional atheism because it is about as effective spiritually as atheism is. The challenge for religion of all kinds in this time is to let go the mental/physical structures of religion, come to the fig tree, be still and know God.

~ by Fr Tim Ardouin on January 15, 2018.

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