Jesus, revealing himself, calls his servants to him. Nathanael’s response to that call is particularly poignant for people in our age of isolation who are seeking identity: “How do you know me?” The Fathers’ opinion of Nathanael as a learned man, versed in the Scriptures, cuts an even more striking parallel to modern people. Nathanael is famous for his skepticism of how the Messiah could come from Nazareth.
But far from making him out to be a doubter like Thomas, John Chrysostom (in his Homilies on the Gospel of St. John) praises Nathanael for not being taken in so easily. His inquiry of how anything good could come from Nazareth reveals his attentiveness to the Scriptures—since Bethlehem, not Nazareth, is named by the prophets as the homeland of the Messiah. But still he follows Phillip’s invitation to “come and see” for himself, revealing that he is not so blinkered as to think that nothing unexpected could be true. This is an invitation to intellectually inclined modern people, both to praise the use of their minds to search the Scriptures for the truth, but also an invitation to go and directly experience the risen Lord.
Jesus also reveals that he knew Nathanael even before he got up to follow him. St. Augustine saw the fig tree spread over Nathanael as a reference to the dominion of sin. Jesus’ selection of him shows how the Lord seeks us out, by prevenient grace, to turn us to him before we could even know how.