I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.
Found and seen. Much of this really interesting passage of Scripture revolves around those two themes.
Jesus found Philip. Philip found Nathanael and said that he had found Jesus – the one that Moses wrote about.
Andrew was skeptical and playfully asked: Can anything good come from Nazareth? Philip’s response: come and see.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and described him as a faithful and true Israelite. When Nathanael asks how he knows that Jesus responds by saying he saw him. Nathanael then expresses faith to which Jesus responds with a question and an assurance: do you believe because I told you I saw you…? You will see greater things than these…you will see heaven open…
It seems like any discussion of this section of John should ask how those two themes help us to understand how this sometimes meandering story all fits together.
Let’s start with found. Because there is no subject in the Greek text of verse 43, it is very possible that Peter, from verse 42, is actually the subject. If that is the indeed the case then the theme of being found is strengthened even more. Andrew brings Peter to Jesus; Peter brings Philip; Philip found Nathanael.
The way the story unfolds, the reader’s attention is diverted away from the calling of Andrew to the much longer interaction with Nathanael. Jesus’ interaction with Philip is so sparse that it seems like Philip’s only role is to find Nathanael and to bring him to Jesus. He does so by describing Jesus as the one to whom the entirety of the Old Testament pointed. Philip’s claim is that all of Scripture was being fulfilled in “Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”
The chain of events that ends in Philip claiming to have found the One that Israel had long hoped for begins with Jesus entering into Galilee and is described by John with the simple phrase “and he found Philip.” While the preacher in me is resisting to the urge to delve into the all too familiar cliche ‘found people find people’ I do think it is worth mentioning that the witness of Scripture in general and this passage in particular is that to be found by Jesus compels us to invite others into the presence of Jesus.
The interaction with Nathanael helps us see that more clearly. When Nathanael expresses hesitancy to Philip’s invitation to meet Jesus, Philip responds with ‘come and see.’ The theme of seeing dominates the next part of this passage.
John lets us know that Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward them and offered up a greeting – Jesus called him a true Israelite – that was quite flattering. Nathanael responded a bit skeptically with a question: ‘how do you know me?’ Jesus, once again referencing seeing, says that he saw him under the fig tree. Jesus was certainly implying that He has some kind of divine insight. Nathanael then affirms Jesus to be the Son of God and the King of Israel which was quite a reversal of form from his previous skepticism.
Jesus’ response to Nathanael’s confession cements the importance of the theme of seeing. Jesus declares that Nathanael will see much more than divine insight. In fact, he will see what Jacob saw in a dream: heaven open and God’s angels going up and down to earth on the Son of Man.
This reference, at the very least, can be interpreted to mean that Jesus is the ladder that connects heaven to earth so Jesus is the one who provides access to God. The nuance of the textual reference to the story of Jacob could also suggest a stronger interpretation.
The thrust of the Jacob’s ladder story in Genesis is that the ladder demonstrated that God was with Jacob in that place. So when Jacob woke up from the dream he named that specific place ‘Bethel’ or ‘God’s house.’ For Jesus to reference this story to Nathanael seems to be a way of saying to him that Nathanael will not only see glimpses of divine insight. He will also see Jesus. Jesus is what it looks like when heaven and earth are open to each other.
Found and seen. Found people finding people. Lost people being seen and learning how to see in radically new ways. This wonderfully quirky piece of Scripture gets to the heart of the new creation story: to be found by Jesus is to found in the very presence of God.