I’m, by nature, a private person. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that (introverts unite!), but I’ve noticed a pattern in my life of wanting to hide even good or morally neutral things about myself from other people. Something as benign as others knowing what makes me happy can still make me feel exposed — “Sure, it makes me happy, but will it just sound ridiculous to others?” Why do I feel the nudge to lower the laptop lid when someone walks in the room even though I’m just looking at reels of Corgi puppies or reading an interesting movie review?
Maybe you can relate. And these are the “good” things. What about the bad things? (Wait, is Alexa listening to me right now?)
This reminded me of one of my favorite interactions Jesus has with a disciple when he calls Nathanael from underneath the fig tree in John 1. Sometimes a disciple gets a rather simple “Follow me” from Jesus, but Nathanael gets something more: a doubt-eroding demonstration of his omnipresence and a glimpse into his absolving grace.
When Jesus calls out to him, Nathanael is rightly taken aback at how he knew his name. Jesus’s response is invasive: “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” This would be the equivalent of me telling my friend who lives in North Carolina (I’m in Minnesota) that I saw him eating Honey Nut Cheerios that morning for breakfast. It was a miracle, an early demonstration of Jesus’s divinity. So the whole ordeal is enough to make Nathanael exclaim “You are the Son of God! You saw me when I was alone.”
I can completely understand his joy in this moment. He feels seen, known, and pursued — and not just by anyone, but by the Promised One himself. And yet, when I put myself in his shoes, I experience a wider range of emotions as well, including confusion and fear. “He saw me when I was all alone under a fig tree? What else did he see me do that I thought was private? Did he watch me last Thursday night when I did that thing I’m now paralyzed in shame over? Did he see me being short with my kids? Or clicking on that website? Or gossiping about my friend? Or — gasp! — does he see inside my heart as well? (How deep does the rabbit hole go here exactly?)”
If I’m Nathanael, and I’ve had a chance to process what just happened, I’m thinking, “Of all the things you could have chosen to say you’ve seen me do, you chose to say you saw me sitting on a park bench under a tree? That’s it?” In a day when one wrong mistake can be amplified online and held out for all to see and cancel us over, Jesus’s actions here are setting the stage for the gospel he’s going to inaugurate and the relief we all desperately long for. Relief is the result of an experience of grace. The law exposes sin, but grace forgets it and sends it far, far away — as far as the east is from the west.
And that’s really where this story is pointing us. Jesus even mentions that he (and we) would see “greater things” than this. Greater than Jesus seeing Nathanael sitting under a fig tree is Nathanael seeing Jesus hanging on a tree. Greater than the idea of God watching our life is us watching Jesus’s life — all the way to Calvary — because salvation and forgiveness are found in him, not in the works of our hands, the circumstances of our lives, or the shame we carry on our shoulders.
This post originally appeared on mbird.com