“I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:48)

Secrets, riddles, puzzles, cryptic clues, symbolic codes – these are all common tools that we use in relating to one another in the everyday world. So it should come as no surprise that we expect God to play by the same rules. We assume that he has scattered clues about himself throughout the universe which we inhabit, and our job is to read these clues, and find God. The truth is, though, that we don’t find God; God finds us. The wonderful story of the call of the boy Samuel tag teams with Jesus’ exchange with Nathanael to set us straight on that matter.

Samuel’s parents had apprenticed him to the priest Eli shortly after his birth. Samuel grew up literally in the shadow of the altar, in the almost tangible presence of God. One night as he lay in bed trying to get to sleep, he experienced God searching for him. Only after Samuel ran to Eli three times did the old priest realize who it was who was calling the boy, and he told him to answer, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel did not seek and find God; God sought and found Samuel.

For the most part, that’s the way God prefers to treat us. The one who seeks us out and finds us is the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. When it comes to the basis of our relationship with him, God doesn’t play guessing games. The basis for our knowledge of God is God’s knowledge of us.

This is made clear for us in St. John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael. Jesus greets him in an almost playful manner that would suggest he already knew him. Nathanael is mildly perplexed, but Jesus quickly explains, “I saw you when you were underneath the fig tree.” We don’t know exactly what Jesus was referring to, but Nathanael did, and it evidently touched a very private tender spot in his heart. When we experience that same touch, when we know that we are known at the deepest level of our being, we receive the confidence and the trust to respond as a disciple, to become a follower of the one who knows us so well.

Jesus sees us under our “fig trees” – wherever it is that we lay ourselves open without reservation, wherever it is that we simply quit playing guessing games. If we just sit still long enough, he’ll find us!

Look it Up

Psalm 139 is a rich meditation on the lengths to which God will go to seek us out and find us.

Think About It

What is your “fig tree” moment –  the time when, if Jesus were to bring it up to you, you would know that he knows you fully?