Like John the Baptist, Philip from Bethsaida, bears testimony to his experience of Jesus.
Philip discovered in Jesus the embodiment of all those qualities of the spirit towards which “Moses in the law and also the prophets” had always pointed the people of Israel. Philip wants to share his experience with Nathanael. Philip is convinced that, as soon as Nathanael meets Jesus, he also will discover in Jesus those realities to which his own spiritual tradition has always been guiding him.
So, when Nathanael questions Philip’s bold assertion that
‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ (John 1:45)
Philip replies to Nathanael saying simply,
‘Come and see.’ (John 1:46)
Philip’s confidence is touching. He does not feel the need to try to convince Nathanael of anything. He does not berate Nathanael for his cynicism or his prejudice against Nazareth. Philip trusts that, if only he can get Nathanael close to Jesus, Nathanael will be convinced. Philip has absolute confidence in Jesus.
When our hearts are open to the presence of beauty, light, love, goodness, and purity, their truth will be self-authenticating. They validate themselves in the receptive heart. There is an instinctive knowing we possess as creatures of God that does not demand logical proof.
We do not need to be argued or badgered into believing in the power of love. Most people do not need to be convinced of the beauty of a flower. If the one desire of our heart is to encounter true life, we will know it when it comes.
Philip trusts the integrity of Nathanael’s heart and the power of Jesus’ presence.
Jesus immediately sees in Nathanael the same quality Philip perceives in his friend. When Nathanael and Jesus meet, Jesus declares,
‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ (John 1:47)
The Greek word translated “deceit” is dolos. It can mean “craft”, “deceit”, or “guile”. “Craft” means “falseness” or “trickery”; it is virtually synonymous with “deceit”. So the choice here for the translator is between “craft”/”deceit” or “guile”.
“Guile” is an odd old-fashioned word seldom used today. So, it is understandable translators would choose “deceit” over “guile”. But there is something about “guile” that fits well with the picture of Nathanael in John chapter one.
Guile carries a particular connotation of “duplicity.” A person who practices guile is going in two different directions at the same time, appearing to be one thing on the surface while being something quite different on the inside.
When Jesus said that Nathanael was “an Israelite in whom there is no dolos“, he seems to have meant that Nathanael was a man of integrity. The parts of Nathanael’s life were all headed in the same direction.
I need to ask myself what is the overall direction of my life. What is the fundamental orienting principle of my being? What is the dominant driving force in my life?
This is not about living perfectly, never falling short of my ideals. It is a question of the dominant motivating force that in general directs my life. If I am scattered, divided, fragmented, constantly running off after a variety of contradictory loyalties and commitments, it will be difficult for me to see in Jesus, the vision of light and truth that Nathanael was able to see.
If the general focus of my life is towards light, truth, goodness, beauty, peace, and love then I
will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. (John 1:51)
This is the season to see angels. It is a time of the year when we enter into a thin place, where the barrier that so often seems to separate the visible from the invisible, becomes a little less opaque. Christmas offers an opportunity to reorient our lives to the mysterious hidden reality that permeates all of life.