Today’s Scripture readings have in common the theme of God’s knowledge. The God who made us loves us, and the God who made us knows us, knows us better than we know ourselves, better than anyone or anything else in all creation knows us. Nathanael asked Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
In Jesus’ time and since “under the fig tree” had become a metaphor for bible study and prayer. In I Kings 4:25 during Solomon’s time “Israel and Judah dwelt in safety, every man under his vine and fig tree.” Micah 4:4 in God’s kingdom “they shall sit every man under his vine and his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” And Zechariah 3:9-10 “I the Lord of hosts will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. In that day every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and his fig tree.” When Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree” everyone – except maybe us – knew that Jesus knew Nathanael in prayer and study.
We have the witness of the Collect for Purity. “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires know, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God knew Eli the priest and priest sons Hophni and Phineas. Eli was a godly man but old and weak. I Samuel 2:12 says Hophni and Phineas “were worthless and had no regard for the Lord.” God knew Hannah’s sorrow at having no children, and God knew how her co-wife Peninnah provoked her for that reason. God heard Hannah’s vow to lend her son, if she had one, to the Lord’s service, and God sent her Samuel. Samuel grew up with Eli and Hophni and Phineas, but he did not know the Lord. But Eli did know the Lord, and Eli was an honest man. When Samuel reported the Lord’s judgment on Eli and his house, Eli accepted God’s judgment.
The Psalmist witnesses that the Lord who made us knows us, knows all of us from our conception. The Lord surrounds us and lays his hand on us. God knows each of us better than we know ourselves. Part of the joy of life is the joy of self-discovery, learning what we can do that we didn’t think we could do, learning how to experience and to share God’s love for us, learning also what we shouldn’t do and what we can’t do but must leave to others.
The church in Corinth had heard the good news that Jesus’ death and resurrection had set them free from sin and had lifted from them the burden of the ceremonial law of Moses. But this knowledge of freedom is not unlimited. Rather than the external law of the Torah, Christians take on the internal obligation of self-control. Paul commands the Corinthian Christians to shun prostitution. He reminds them, and us, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we were freed from the need to sin only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, will give us knowledge of God’s truth, and the Holy Spirit, the spirit of power, will empower us to do the truth we are given to know.
John’s Gospel opens and closes with knowledge and with skepticism. When Philip tells Nathanael of Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanel’s skeptical response is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” City people in the Roman Empire looked down on country people and called them “pagans.” In Jesus’ time Nazareth was a country village about 4 miles southeast of Sepphoris, the major town of central Galilee. Sepphoris was excavated in the 1990’s by a team from Duke. But when Jesus shows his knowledge “I saw you under the fig tree,” Nathanael comes to faith, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
The parallel account is at the end of John’s Gospel. Thomas was not present when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to the disciples. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later when Jesus said, “Put your finger here . . . reach out your hand . . . Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The God who made us loves us, and the God who made us knows us, knows us better than we know ourselves, better than anyone or anything else in all creation knows us. So let us rejoice that God knows us, and loves us, and calls us to love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.