An average fig tree is about fifteen feet tall and its branches spread out about twenty-five feet wide. It acts a little bit like an umbrella, creating a cozy space underneath that is almost like a private room. If someone wanted to get away from the chaos of a one-room house or the heat of the sun, he would sit under the fig tree.
Churches act a little bit like umbrellas and fig trees, too. We gather together under the umbrella of the Word with a desire to know the presence of the living God. We gather to “retreat” from the chaos of the world so we can read scripture, reflect, and pray. In that way, we have much in common with Nathaniel.
Nathanael was a student of the scriptures. It explains why his response to Philip claiming Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah was: “How can anything this good come out of Nazareth?”
There’s a good reason why Nathanael asks this question. The writings of Moses and the prophets said something different. The messiah wasn’t supposed to come out of Nazareth. The book of Micah said the messiah was going to come out of Bethlehem in Judah.
“How can this be, Philip? The Scriptures say something different from what you’re saying is true. So why should I believe anything you say?”
It sounds a little fundamental, doesn’t it? Whatever Scripture says has to be right. As it turns out, both were right. Jesus came from both places. Most fundies think there is only one “truth.”
All Philip said was, “Come and see for yourself.”
There’s no need to convince anyone about the truth. The truth is convincing enough in itself.
So Nathanael came, experienced Christ for himself, and believed. Nathanael’s advantage was that he was prepared to recognize the messiah. He was a student who spent enough time under the fig tree, praying and meditating, to recognize the Truth for himself.
Maybe one of the many truths in this story is that we are expected to recognize the truth for ourselves rather than accept something because someone else said it’s true. That’s not possible when we are youth and our brains were not fully developed. Many of us believed what we were told. We had no capacity to be able to disagree.
But there comes a time after your brain is fully developed and capable of abstract thinking (late teens and into the twenties), where it behooves you to sort through all the things you learned as a child. Why? Because not everything you learned was true.
Some people grew up learning to look down on other races and nationalities. Some people grew up learning that men were more important than women. Some grew up learning that if someone wasn’t heterosexual, (s)he was purposefully opposing the will of God. Some grew up learning that rules in the Bible that hurt people are more important than compassion for the people the scriptures were written to serve.
Without a doubt, the Bible holds wisdom from the days of old. It’s a tool the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us. But you have to know it well enough to understand which truths are from God and which don’t sound like our God of love. That’s when you have to pull on your big girl and big boy pants.
The Bible encourages us to spend time under the fig tree. The psalmist encourages us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” This was my motivation for writing the book, 30 Days to Loving God with All Your Heart.
Ignatius of Loyola’s ancient practice of meditation on scriptures changed my whole understanding of God. In the midst of the stories I’d read about a God of Israel who killed his own children when they were bad, the Spirit showed me the truth about God. God is love, not a killer.
To be a disciple is first to be a student or an apprentice. An apprentice can’t go to work until he or she has been trained. That’s why you spend time sitting under the fig tree in a church sanctuary—to read and meditate on the writings in the Holy Scriptures.
A church sanctuary isn’t the only place that can be called a fig tree. Anyplace where you meditate on the things of God is a sanctuary. It’s a place where you sit under an umbrella, protected and taught by the Holy Spirit.
The places where we meditate also produce many fruits that are sweet. Peace of mind, a feeling of wholeness, knowledge of the Oneness of the universe in God. When you have tasted the sweetness of the fruits of sitting under the fig tree, you will understand that whatever God appoints you to do is not something to be feared but it is something He’s prepared you for. It will give you joy and peace and a sense of purpose in this life.
Maybe then you will be one whose enthusiasm for Christ in your life will make people want to know the reason for your joyful outlook on life – and you can say, “I found Jesus and he has revealed the Father to me. Come and see.”
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Check out some devotional options for the season of Lent, 2015.