Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL B – “Under the Fig Tree”

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Ol’ Boudreaux was visiting Washington, DC, for the first time. Unable to locate the Capitol, he asked a police officer for directions, “Excuse me, officer, how do I get to the Capitol building?”

The officer replied, “Wait here at this bus stop for the number 54 bus. It’ll take you right there.”

Three hours later, the police officer returned to the same area and, sure enough, Boudreaux was still waiting at the same bus stop.

The officer got out of his car and said, “Excuse me, but to get to the Capitol building, I said to wait here for the number 54 bus, and that was three hours ago! Why are you still waiting?”
Boudreaux replied, “Don’t worry, officer, it won’t be long now. The 45th bus just went by!”

Waiting around for something is always difficult, but we do it a lot. And there are some who spend their entire lives waiting for the perfect moment or perfect place or perfect person, which is probably what led Voltaire to declare, “We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.” There’s a good bit of truth in that.

Here recently, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve all been waiting for the pandemic to be over so that we can “get back to normal,” but in the meantime, we’re missing the now, but that’s a rabbit trail for another day. However, we do spend a good deal of time waiting, and there are certain things that are worth waiting for. In these cases, waiting is best understood as patience. Of patience, the Venerable Fulton Sheen said:

“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is ‘timing’
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”

The parent never waits on the child to learn to walk or to speak. The parent is patient, allowing the child to grow and develop. The vintner doesn’t impatiently wait for the fermentation of the wine to be complete, but is patient in allowing the yeast to do its work.

Today in our Gospel, we are told “When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’” In other words, Jesus says to Nathanael, “I know you,” and in response to him Nathanael says, “I’ve never met you before, so how can you know me?” To which Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

“I saw you under the fig tree” has a few different meanings, but one that is more supported by scripture than the others defines it as waiting on the Messianic Age. Waiting on the Savior. Nathanael asked, “How can you know me?” And Jesus responded by saying, “I know you as one who has been waiting on me.” That was all Nathanael needed. Someone to speak to him about his heart’s desire: the coming of the Kingdom of God. Realizing that his waiting was over, Nathanael shouted, “You are the son of God!” But then Jesus gave one more semi-cryptic message: he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This is a reference back to the story of Jacob’s Ladder.

Jacob had been traveling and when it got late, he set up camp for the night. When he fell asleep, he had a dream about the place he was camping and in the dream he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder. The angels are those who go about the business of God, so that was a place where the work of God was taking place. God then spoke to Jacob in the dream, reaffirming the covenant that he had made with Abraham. When he awoke, Jacob said, “‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, “‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” And Jacob named that place, Bethel, which means, the house of God.

Nathanael, was one who was waiting on the Messianic Age and a savior, which like everyone else meant that he was looking for a Savior like King David, one who would establish his kingdom—his house—for all people, but Jesus says, The new kingdom will not be established in a place, but in himself. Jesus is saying that he is a new Bethel, a place where the angels are ascending and descending, that is, in him, the work of God is being accomplished and the covenant is being fulfilled.

Through our baptism and our faith, we are joined with Christ—one, as he and the Father are one—therefore, we too are a part of Bethel—the house of God—that Jesus established. The angels of heaven ascend and descend upon us. The work of God is set in motion within us, but it is here that the patient waiting continues, because this work of God is made perfect in us through Jesus, but it is also not yet complete, which means, I can say with confidence that God’s work has been accomplished in me, but I also know that there is much left to be done (just ask anybody who knows me!) Think of it in terms of a sculptor. The sculptor has before him a large block of marble and a picture in his mind of how he will transform this piece of raw stone into a work of art. The stone in the one hand and the image in the other, but before he makes the first chip, the stone and the image come together in his mind, that is, the sculptor sees the masterpiece inside the raw stone and he goes about the work of revealing it. We are the same. The perfect work of God is accomplished in you, there’s just more patient work to be done.

You are a temple—a house of God. The angels of God ascend and descend upon you and the work of God is accomplished in you, allowing us all to say with Jacob and about ourselves, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God.” Rejoice and be thankful, for you are God’s masterpiece.

Let us pray:
Gracious and Holy Father,
Please give us:
intellect to understand you,
reason to discern you,
diligence to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
a spirit to know you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
ears to hear you,
eyes to to see you,
a tongue to proclaim you,
a way of life pleasing to you,
patience to wait for you
and perseverance to look for you.

Grant us a perfect end,
your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection
and life everlasting.

Amen.

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