Contentment Under The Fig Tree?

Contentment Under The Fig Tree? January 15, 2024

Isaiah and Micah include a well-known prophetic utterance. The second chapter of Isaiah and the fourth chapter of Micah talk about contentment in the reign of God. The words in common claim “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Micah goes on with these words, “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Micah 4:4) A person sitting under their own fig tree is a symbol of peace and contentment in our Old Testament. Why then does Jesus interrupt Nathanael’s peace and contentment?

No Contentment Under The Tree

We are all given images of happiness and contentment. The paradox is we are very discontent when we try to emulate these images. Advertising is meant to cause discontentment until you purchase the product and become happy. “You know you deserve this or that,” is the message we receive. Some of us try to be “smart” about our buying and do our research. We do not learn much. We are inundated with information and cannot reasonably sift through it. Popular culture has a word for our confused discontent. FOMO is an acronym for “Fear of Missing Out.”

Many people though see advertising for what it is but are still discontented with life. They are the ones who try spiritual junk food. There is a wide range available for our consumption. Everything from sports to political commentary to more of the new age type self help methods. And there are even Christian fads that come and go. I wandered around McKay’s one time to see how many copies of Purpose-Driven Life and Prayer of Jabez were available. I suppose books about the enneagram are cheap now.

Nathanael is seeking contentment under the fig tree. But he does not have it. He asks Philip if “anything good could come from Nazareth?” He is skeptical, judgmental, and sarcastic. Yet, it does not keep him from searching for what is missing in his life. One more aspect about him is the skepticism is fake. He is willing to believe about anything he cannot immediately explain.

Do You Believe Because?

Jesus greets him with a play on words. He says, “an Israelite in whom there is no deception.” In other words, “an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob.” Part of Nathanael’s discontent is his self-image. He wants to be thought of as someone who is very honest and can root out deception. You cannot pull the wool over his eyes.

Jacob means usurper or deceiver. In his story he sneaks around and tries manipulating events to his advantage. One night, before he meets his brother Esau who wanted him dead, he fights someone else. In the fight Jacob is injured but refuses to let the stranger go without a blessing. The man asks his name. Jacob must tell him the name he has spent his life living up too. The man gives him a blessing with a new name, Israel, “one who has striven against God and men and prevailed.”

Nathanael does not yet realize he is faced with the same problem. He will be forced to ask himself, “Am I truly the person I pretend to be?” Later, in John’s gospel, Jesus says you shall know the truth and the truth will liberate you.” (John 8:32) Jesus gives this new disciple the truth Nathanael wants to hear. But there is much more work to do. “You will see greater things than” someone telling you they saw you under the fig tree.

Truth And Contentment

There are some truths about our lives we avoid. A pastor was speaking at her uncle’s funeral. And she said, “Do I dare expose this family secret?” She went on about how her uncle was so hardheaded in his politics that Democrats were always right, and Republicans were always wrong. Most of the people in the audience laughed. I don’t know if he recognized that flaw in his character. But it was apparent to other people, especially Republicans.

Others of us though, have larger and more harmful character flaws. I do not know how many times I have been warned about someone’s bad temper in various churches. You may think your family recognizes your bad temper but know you get over it quickly. It is really a means of manipulating your family. Honestly, I have a flaw when it comes to this sort of thing. I will purposefully do nothing just so the person will get angrier. I would even say, “Get mad. It does not bother me any.” But I will be experiencing inner turmoil from the confrontation. So, I work on that. I do not try to placate the person. I try to diffuse the situation as best I can. It is not easy. Yet, I have ended up knowing people who will never speak to me again.

People differ in their flaws. But we practice the same dishonesty in trying to avoid acknowledging them. Nathanael is just now learning that. His future experiences are going to test him in ways he does not yet know. If we are trying to be content, do not look for the fig tree or any other attempt to feel better. In following Jesus, Nathanael will eventually realize reputation and fig trees do not bring happiness. It is in following the one he calls “the Son of God, the King of Israel.”

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