Under the fig tree

Today is the Feast of the Archangels with a reading from the Gospel of John in which Jesus encounters Nathaniel under a fig tree. It is only at the end of the reading that angels get a mention: “you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Otherwise, Jesus is involved in the calling of the disciples, having found Peter, Andrew and Philip at work. He finds Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree. Micah 4:3-4 and Zechariah 3:10 suggest that “under a fig tree” may be a place of contemplation. It may be that Nathanael was a “thinker”. He wouldn’t accept anything at face value, but he would question and contemplate everything until he was sure of its truthfulness. On the other hand, sitting in the shade, eating the free figs, might indicate that he was just a lazy bum.

I think that we need more fig trees — at least in a figurative sense. They can be quite messy when the unpicked, over-ripe fruit falls to the ground and attracts all kinds of birds and bugs. What I mean is that we need more places and time to be contemplative — time to be quiet and think. We need more “fig trees” in church — places and times to stop working, to stop doing the business, and to sit and reflect. Perhaps we might become more Christian with less busyness in our own lives and more time to ask the simple question to ourselves: how was I a disciple of Christ.

Perhaps we would be a better church if we could stop and contemplate our place in this world we are called to evangelize. We might find things quite messy: unpicked, over-ripe fruit on the ground. A harvest wasted.

In my last assignment, the Franciscans had just taken up pastoral leadership of a parish almost 150 years old. There was a lot of focus on the past, a church caught in the Newtonian mechanics of an object at rest. We can learn from the past, but we also have to consider the now, and then contemplate a new future of a church not at rest, but a restless church.

Same is true of each one of us as individuals, members of a family, and all the other roles we have in life.

Where is your fig tree? Find it and may the messengers of God, the angels, bring you divine food for thought.

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