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I saw you under the fig tree

by davesandel on January 5th, 2019

I saw you under the fig tree

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him … Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  – From John 1

Jonah sat under a tree that shaded him one day and was taken from him the next. Odysseus had to cling tight to the branches of a fig tree to be saved  from destruction between the whirlpool of Charybdis and the ravenous snaking heads of the monster Scylla.  The Buddha’s great revelation came under the “sacred” fig tree. “Throughout the days of Solomon, Judah and Israel lived in safety from Dan to Beersheba, each man under his own vine and his own fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25).

Now Jesus sees Nathanael, a man of truth, sitting under a fig tree: the giving tree that shares its fruit and leaves and trunk with us, the sacred tree that stretches up to heaven while its roots dig deep into the earth, the tree that rocks the cradle, the tree that shakes and whistles in the winter wind, its broken branches scratching against the icy panes, keeping me awake.

John Muir, father of our national parks, cherished his time sitting in a tree during thunderstorms in the California mountains. Our son Marc climbed trees with abandon from almost the time he could walk. I settle much more comfortably into a house surrounded by trees than one with none. My mother’s favorite poem might be that special one by Joyce Kilmer,

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree …

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray …

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

Fly into any Midwestern or eastern city, and you get the impression you are flying down into a forest. I must have sat beneath a thousand trees in my short life and look forward to many more.

Nathanael sat beneath the tree, a man of no duplicity. Jesus knew him from the inside out, and Nathanael was transfixed. But Jesus said, “No Nathanael, there is more.”

The tree might bring Nathanael’s mind up to heaven and back to earth. But now, Jesus says, “you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

My friend’s mother, growing old, less than a shadow of her former strong, practical self, shared a story the last time her daughter spent time with her. “I know not everyone believes me,” she whispered, “but I really do see angels in the trees.” My friend touched her mom’s soft, worn hand and said, with no duplicity, “Oh, Mom! I wish I could see angels in the trees. Will you show me the next time you see them?”

    *    *    *

In a few months as the leaves re-appear, I might find a blanket, walk out to the woods with Winnie-the-Pooh and lie down under a big tree, just to stare through the branches into the sky. This will be a fine experience, restful, stimulating my imagination, teaching me the ways of winter and spring. The bugs will not yet bother me. Winnie will be patient and never in a hurry to get back home.

But there is more.

What if we happen to hear the call of Jesus?

What if we see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man?

What if?

Why not?

We are your children, Lord, we run to follow you. We know how much you love us, even though you know all things, even though you know what we wish you didn’t know about us. We can trust you with the winter, and trust you with the spring. We can trust you with the water and trust you with the trees. These lives we live, Lord, they all belong to you. Turn us back to you again and again, looking up and looking in each other’s eyes.

Homer, The Odyssey, Book 12, lines 565-585

Joyce Kilmer, “Trees” from Trees and Other Poems, 1914

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