16- BENEATH THE FIG TREE

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During those days we asked Philip, the junk dealer, to speak with Nathanael, from Cana of Galilee, to persuade him to join our group. Without being told twice, Philip then headed for the road that passed through the valley of Esdraelon…

He arrived in Cana of Galilee about noon. The town smelled of wine and quince jelly. He pushed his cart of utensils toward the small shop of wool where Nathanael was working… but it was empty. There, in the yard, under the shade of a fig tree, he found Nathanael sleeping. He tiptoed toward his friend….

Philip: Nathanael…. Nat…. Psst…. Wake up, Nat, …Nathanael!!

Nathanael: What’s the matter?! Who are you?!…. Hell, it’s you, Philip! What are you doin’ here? How’d you get in?

Philip: How else would I get in? Through the door. I wanted to surprise you but I found you snoring like a pig.

Nathanael: What a fool you are, Philip! You just ruined everything, at the most inopportune time.

Philip: But… I…

Nathanael: I can never forgive you for this, do you hear me? Never. Now, beat it, and don’t you come back here, ever!

Philip: Hey, what’s wrong with you? Is business that bad? Come on, cheer up. Has a relative died? My condolences then. Were you beaten by your wife? Then beat her with a club, so she’ll learn to respect you. Blazes, you should not allow her to…

Nathanael: Shut up, will you, Philip!… Uf, You’re a bore, really, you are! No one could be worse!

Philip: Were you dreaming, Nat? When you were sleeping beneath the fig tree, I saw you smiling like an angel; like you had been gifted with the white horse of Solomon.

Nathanael: It was better than that, Philip… It was something more….

Philip: C’mon, Nathanael, go on! Tell me about this dream. I’m your friend, am I not?

Nathanael: I dreamt I was playing dice and won a fortune. Can you imagine that, Philip?

Philip: Oh, that’s fine. You deserve it, my friend. After all, you never cheat. You lose every time.

Nathanael: In my dream I had plenty of money, a sack full of silver. Then I went to my wife and told her: “Old lady, we’re moving to Jerusalem. We’re rich, do you hear? We’re rich! From now on, we won’t be walking barefooted, nor will we be eating any more onions!” So, we went to Jerusalem, where I put up a big shop. My business prospered. I had mountains and mountains of wool, all kinds of leather, weeding hoes, weaving instruments, shuttles, a dozen looms, several textiles, multicolored tapestries… I had everything, Philip! I owned everything! Business kept on booming. Money flowed like honey. Every Saturday, my wife and I would walk slowly, hand in hand, to the Temple, imagine that! I was wearing a white, linen tunic, while she had several necklaces on, and a pair of gold bracelets… Everyone was green with envy and said: “There goes that very wealthy Nathanael!” And then…… then….!

Philip: Then what?

Nathanael: Then you came, you idiot. And everything was gone.

Philip: But that was marvellous. Your story just gave me goose pimples…. I congratulate you, my friend. Good fortune has just come into your house.

Nathanael: No, that was only a dream. As you can see, poor people like us can only dream.

Philip: On the contrary. It is for this reason that I come. To bring you good news.

Nathanael: C’mon, tell me soon, and let’s see if it can make up for the damage you’ve done.

Philip: He has come.

Nathanael: Who?

Philip: Shsss! Don’t shout… Nat, we have found the man!

Nathanael: Hey, what’re you talkin’ about?

Philip: We found the man we need, so that your dream will become a reality. You’ll not only have a shop of wool, but a marble palace, bigger than that of Caiphas!… You will be the wealthiest businessman in the city! So shall I, Nat. Do you see this cart of combs and amulets? Ha…ha..! Soon it’s gonna be full of pearls, do you hear? A lot more than the pearl necklaces that the queen of Sheba wore! I’m gonna be selling the finest pearls, as big as my fist….!

Nathanael: Are you crazy, Philip?

Philip: No, I’m not, but with this man I’m telling you about, things are going to change. He’s a smart guy, the type we have been waiting for all along.

Nathanael: We’re waiting for the Messiah, Philip. You’re not talking of the Messiah, are you?

Philip: Well, I don’t know if he’s the Messiah, or another baptizer like John, or whatever. I don’t care who he is, but he has good ideas. He knows the Scripture to the letter; the psalms, like the palm of his hand. He speaks like Moses and the other prophets. I tell you, with him around, we’re gonna move!

Nathanael: Once and for all, Philip, tell me, whom are you talking about?

Philip: I’m not going to tell you. Find out for yourself.

Nathanael: Are you makin’ a fool out of me?

Philip: I’m serious, Nat. C’mon, guess who this guy is.

Nathanael: Okay, at least you should tell me where he comes from…. from Jerusalem, maybe.

Philip: You’re wrong. He’s not from Jerusalem.

Nathanael: He must be from…. I don’t know…. from Caesaria?

Philip: Far from it. You’ve gone very far. Go up north.

Nathanael: Is he from here, from Galilee?

Philip: Yes, sir, he’s from Galilee, but which part of Galilee? A comb for you, for the right answer.

Nathanael: What do I need a comb for, Philip?

Philip: Come on, guess. Where is he from?

Nathanael: From Tiberias.

Philip: No.

Nathanael: From Sepphoris.

Philip: No.

Nathanael: From Bethsaida.

Philip: I can’t believe this, Nathanael. He’s almost a neighbor of yours, and yet, you can’t guess. He is a Nazarene!

Nathanael: From Nazareth?

Philip: Exactly.

Nathanael: Come on, Philip. Go, kid somebody else, will you? You’re saying he comes from Nazareth! And since when have you seen any noteworthy person come from Nazareth? Only charlatans and bandits come from that good-for-nothing little town.

Philip: I tell you, this is the man we need.

Nathanael: But who is he?

Philip: Jesus! Remember?… He’s Jesus, the son of Joseph, the Moreno, who was with us in the Jordan, who told us a lot of jokes!

Nathanael: Now, this is the height of your foolishness. Are you saying that he’s to be our liberator? Only your big empty head could conceive of such a thing.

Philip: That’s alright. Say whatever you want, but tomorrow you’ll come with me.

Nathanael: Go with you? Where to?

Philip: To Capernaum. The man is there. We’re forming a group, Nat, and you’ve got to join us.

Nathanael: No, no, I’m not joining, leave me alone, will you? I developed a lot of corns on my feet after that trip to the Jordan, and I’m not moving from here.

Philip: You’ll come with me to see Jesus.

Nathanael: I tell you to leave me alone with my wife. Besides, I’ve got a lot of work to do….

Philip, as always, ended up winning and convincing Nathanael. Very early the next day, the two headed for the road to Capernaum. Nathanael helped Philip push the dilapidated cart full of kitchenware.

Philip: Uff…! Well, here we are… We can now see the palm trees of Capernaum. When we pass by Matthew’s table, don’t forget to spit on this filthy tax collector.

Nathanael: Damn, how did I get into this mess..? Philip, you, always get me into trouble….

Philip: Oh, c’mon. Let’s go to Zebedee’s house. I’m sure we’ll find the Nazarene there.

Jesus: Hey, Nathanael! It’s been a long time since we journeyed to the Jordan!

Nathanael: I’m happy to see you again, Jesus… How was everything with you after our last night in Betabara?

Jesus: Okay. And how was it with you? How’s your shop?

Nathanael: So-so. One has to work hard in order to live.

Philip: I’m glad you came. We need you here, Nathanael.

Nathanael: How’s that?

Jesus: We need you.

Nathanael: You need me?

Jesus: Yes. Didn’t Philip tell you?

Nathanael: Well, I…. I don’t get this.

Jesus: We’re forming a group… and we’re counting on you. We need people like you, who don’t care about money nor comfort, who are willing to forego everything for the cause.

Nathanael: Cause? What cause?

Jesus: For the cause of justice that John the prophet was talking about.

Nathanael: Er…I… But who ever told you I was any good for this?

Jesus: I can see it in your eyes, Nathanael. You are a good Israelite, and I bet, if you won a fortune by playing dice, you would share it with those who are more in need than you. If you owned a big wool store in Jerusalem, you’d help everyone, so that no one would walk naked in Israel. Am I right, Nathanael? You wouldn’t allow your wife to go around wearing gold bracelets while there was great misery in the country….

Nathanael: Yes, yes, of course…. well, I don’t know…

Jesus: Don’t you every dream of becoming rich, Nathanael?

Philip: Come on, Nat, don’t deny it. Remember when you were under the fig tree?

Nathanael: Shut up, Philip. You have no right to meddle in this.

Philip: Okay, okay, but…..

Jesus: I’m sure you wanna be rich, so that you can share your wealth with the less fortunate ones. For how can one be happy when others are hungry and suffering?

Philip: Exactly. This cannot go on. God has to correct this situation.

Jesus: Everyone must get involved in this, Philip. We’re God’s hands, I mean, God is counting on us, don’t you think so, Nathanael?

Nathanael: What for?

Jesus: So that things will change. So that you and I, the poor of this world can take a breather, that everyone will have enough, no one will ever be wanting. There will be equality in the Kingdom of God.

Philip: I told you, Nat. Those who are on top will go down, and those who are down will go up. That’s how we’ll progress.

Jesus: So, will you join our group now, Nathanael?

Nathanael: Let me think about it, some more… The truth is, I really cannot do much, but…

Jesus: We’ll witness great things, Nathanael. I’m sure the Lord will not fail us.

Philip: Hey, Nat, cheer up. Didn’t you say you wanted to win in the lottery? Well, bet on a number! Didn’t you hear what he said? That God never fails!

Jesus: Yes, we’ll see God’s promise being fulfilled on this earth, and the dream of the poor will become a reality.

With Nathanael of Cana, Galilee, we became seven in the group.

*Comments*
Cana of Galilee was a small village, 6 kms. from Nazareth. There was a certain rivalry between the two places. Cana, at present, is a small but completely Arab city. There is one church which reminds us of the first miracle made by Jesus, when he changed water into wine. Another small church nearby is dedicated to the memory of the apostle, Nathanael, who was born in Cana, and who was referred to in other traditions, as Bartholomew.

Accounts tell us of Nathanael as a tanner of leather and a weaver. According to the government lists, these occupations were despicable, a social stigma, as calculated by those who considered themselves “pure” and involved in superior work. The job of a tanner was even more contemptible, because of the stink originating from the leather being cured. It was so repugnant; that it gave wives the right to divorce their husbands. The job of a weaver (in Galilee one worked more with linen or flax; in Judea, it was wool) was also despicable because it was considered an exclusively woman’s occupation. In Jerusalem, for example, the weavers’ barrio was completely marginal, being situated alongside the public garbage dump. Like many poor workers, Nathanael was smitten with ambition to make much money and attain social prestige. At first, he understood that the kingdom Jesus was telling him about was this, a form of personal upliftment, an individual liberation from his misery. Jesus disconcerted him: Liberation was for the whole community. It was needed in order to be shared. The Good News that the poor would cease being poor demanded a concerted effort toward a solitary struggle.

Jesus’ disciples underwent a process of growth, daily, in their understanding of the meaning of the Kingdom of God. This was realized in their contact with their countrymen, their practice of sharing money, plans and risks, and through the inspiring words of Jesus. There is no Christian community that is mature in its beginnings, whose members are spared ambition, egoism and failures. The heedful contact with reality, the reflection of the group on decisions, the specific work for each day, and the search for enlightenment in the evangelical word contribute to the growth of the Christian community.

The account of Nathanael’s vocation in the Gospel of John is replete with theological symbols: the dream (with reference to the dream about Jacob’s ladder, Gen 28:10-17), being under the fig tree (in relation to the prophecy of Hosea where the people’s fidelity is symbolized, Hos 9:10), Jesus’ prophetic look on Nathanael (a picture of God, choosing the remaining faithful of Israel for the Messianic community, Zep 3:12-13). Having in mind such symbolism, the evangelical episode should not be taken as a proof of the prophetic power of Jesus over the hidden thoughts of people. It is enough that we see in him an intuitive man, who perceives what is in the hearts of his friends, and who is capable of inspiring them with an ideal, which are the typical qualities of a popular leader.

(Jn 1:45-51)

16- BENEATH THE FIG TREE

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