Nathaniel: What you see is what you get
“Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him and said, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’” (See John 1:45-51, RSV).
One writer has described Nathaniel as “the absent-minded professor among the 12 . . . the mystic, the other-worldly man….”
In John’s Gospel he is called Nathaniel. In the other three gospels he is known as Bartholomew. His story is “fleshed-out” in John’s writing. The story begins with Philip. The first thing he did when he met Jesus was to go find Nathaniel. This was his priority. In fact, it becomes the pattern of his life – to share Jesus with others. He proclaimed, “We have found the Messiah!” The word in the Greek New Testament is the source of the word “Eureka!”
What a discovery! We might regard this as friendship evangelism. He did not argue with Nathaniel. He simply gave witness to what he knew. When something good happens to us – a graduation, a marriage, a birth – we want to share it with others. We might even send announcements. Philip shared his discovery with any and all who would listen.
The story revolves around Nathaniel.
He was prejudiced. He asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” There may be friendly rivalry and competition between schools, communities, or even nations. But the rivalry might become ugly if we allow feelings of superiority to creep in. I once read about a resident of Dayton, Ohio who said, “No one will ever fly through the air. If anyone ever does, he won’t be from Dayton, Ohio. And if anyone from Dayton, Ohio, ever does fly through the air it won’t be one of those Wright boys!” Who a person is and where he (or she) is going is far more important than where we come from – Nazareth or Dayton! This story in John 1 finds its real meaning in Jesus. He said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” – no deceit, hypocrisy, or phoniness!” Nathaniel was not the kind to slap you on the back one minute and then talk behind your back the next.
Jesus recognized and appreciated his integrity. He looked for the best in people. Jesus announced that he had seen Nathaniel when he (Nathaniel) was still under the fig tree. Jesus knows who we are, what we are, and where we are! Nathaniel was startled and amazed by that. Jesus promised that Nathaniel would see and hear greater things. Heaven would open for him. Nathaniel had been claimed as one of Christ’s own. Someone has led us to Christ. We have responded. Can Jesus look deep within our hearts and find “no guile”? Are we the people we claim to be?
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.