Homily preached by the Reverend Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (transferred) – October 3, 2010
When I read today’s gospel, I cannot help but to think of a friend of mine from seminary who offered a great insight into this story in the form of a simple question, “what was Nathanael doing under that fig tree?” But the scripture is oddly quiet on the subject, and we are left to wonder and imagine what it was that Nathanael was up to under that fig tree.
When I think of activities that I commonly conduct under trees–reading a book, talking on the phone, eating my lunch, and daydreaming—none of them seem remarkable enough to elicit the response that Nathanael gave to Jesus. Even if I had been in a quiet prayer or meditation, my response would not have been Nathanael’s, but more likely mild annoyance at having my privacy breached.
No, none of these explanations are satisfactory—Nathanael wasn’t having a picnic, nor was he simply saying his afternoon prayers. No, to get at this story, I had to think long and hard before I remembered the night that my grandfather died. I had been at work when I first got the news and so it wasn’t until that evening that I had an opportunity to process my loss. Slipping out my backdoor while my family prepared dinner, I went and lay down in the grass and had a long, hard prayer as I grieved and watched the stars.
I also remembered a late night sojourn in college down to the pier that stretched out over Lake Superior. It was shortly after I had recognized my call to seminary and I was anxious: anxious about the radical change in my career path, anxious about getting into seminary, and anxious because I knew that I was heading into unknown waters. Sitting there, watching the stars, and listening to the waves beneath my feet, I had a long, hard prayer as I sought comfort and reassurance.
I suspect that Nathanael was wrestling with God that day under the fig tree. What exactly he was doing–questioning, grieving, struggling–we have no way of knowing, but each of us here can supply our own experience to fill in the space. What is important is that God saw Nathanael that day under the fig tree, just as God saw me lying on the grass or sitting on the pier, and just as God has seen each of you in your secret places. All that we must do is listen, and like Nathanael, be willing to hear that we have been seen.