And yet, as Jesus approaches Nathanael to calling him into discipleship, Jesus’ response is also quite telling, for rather than criticize Nathanael, Jesus pays Nathanael a compliment: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47).
That’s not something we could say about everyone, not even about every Christian. Sadly, persons have deceit, a word that in the King James Version of the Bible is translated as guile: that is, in Nathanael, there was no guile, no trickery, no slyness. Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases Jesus’ statement as “Here is a real Israelite, with not a false bone in his body.” Sincere, upright, someone who is not looking for some kind of ethical wiggle room, not looking to get “one-up” on others.
Jesus responds to Nathanael’s put-down with a compliment. In fact, Nathanael is surprised as to what Jesus actually knows about him and apparently the condition of his heart (John 1:48). Raising the question as to what Christ really knows about us! What does Christ see in us? Guile? Deceit? Humility? Words are important.
Whatever it was that Jesus recognized in Nathanael, it prompted Nathanael to confess Jesus as not only a rabbi and carpenter’s son, but God’s Son and Israel’s King (John 1:49). Not a bad choice of words to describe such a person from the hills and hollers of Galilee! Nathanael will follow Jesus, despite his own bias toward him.
A reminder that all discipleship involves interacting with Jesus. That one’s identity as a disciple is always grounded in Jesus, that when Jesus calls us to follow him, Jesus wants us to demonstrate qualities that speak of who Jesus is, qualities like honesty, mercy, compassion, even curiosity or seeing where God might actually take us.
Where is Christ calling us to follow this season of Lent? What words would Jesus use to describe us?