Fig Trees and Ladders

Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop
January 5, 2023

Today’s Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010523.cfm

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy,  we celebrate the Memorial of Saint John Neumann. 

John Neumann was born in Bohemia on March 20, 1811. Since he had a great desire to dedicate himself to the American missions, he came to the United States as a cleric and was ordained in New York in 1836 by Bishop Dubois.

In 1840, John Neumann entered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). He labored in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. In 1852, he was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia. There he worked hard for the establishment of parish schools and for the erection of many parishes for the numerous immigrants. Bishop Neumann died on January 5, 1860; he was beatified in 1963.
(catholicculture.org)


jn1_50 figjpg

In our first reading today, John tells us bluntly:

Whoever does not love remains in death.

1 John 3:14

This kind of statement is what one might both love and hate about John. We love it because it’s clear, unequivocal – tells us exactly what we need to do.

And we hate it because it’s clear and unequivocal – there’s no evading it, no back door. We must love – everybody- or we are as good as dead. Wow!


Was this the kind of either-or that Nathaniel struggled with under the fig tree? He sat there pondering some deep challenge or decision and Jesus saw him – and understood – from afar.

The miracle of that moment caused Nathaniel to believe. But Jesus says something like this to Nathaniel:

Hold up, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Your little wrestling under the fig tree was all about your own small world and vision. I invite you now to see the world with God’s eyes.


We all spend worrying time under the shadow our own little fig trees – most of the time worrying about ourselves – who hurt us, doesn’t like us, gets in our way, misunderstands or annoys us.

Today’s Gospel invites us to stop licking our wounds. It beckons us out of the shadows of our self-absorption to see what God might see today – the beauty, the needs, the challenges and possibilities of the world around us. We are invited to become lovers and healers like Jesus.

As John has said, we are invited to leave any shadow of death and to live in love:

The way we came to know love
was that he laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If someone who has worldly means
sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion,
how can the love of God remain in him? 
Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:16-18

Poem: In the following poem, Malcolm Guite compares the spiritual transformations of Jacob and Nathaniel.

Jesus called Nathaniel “a true Israelite” and tells him: “… you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This is a clear reference to the story of Jacob’s Ladder from Genesis, where in a dream God transforms Jacob’s life to become the Patriarch of Israel.

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.

Genesis 28:10-15

Nathaniel’s Awakening – Malcolm Guite

A fugitive and exile, Jacob slept,
A man of clay, his head upon a stone
And even in his sleep his spirit wept
He lay down lonely and would wake alone.
But in the night he dreamt the Heavens parted
And glimpsed, in glory, as from Heaven’s core,
A ladder set for all the broken-hearted
And earth herself becoming Heaven’s door.
And when the nameless Angel named him Israel
He kept this gift, whose depth he never knew;
The promise of an end to all our exile,
For now a child of Israel finds it true,
And sees the One who heals the deep heart’s aching
As Jacob’s dream becomes Nathanael’s waking.

Music: Maybe Nathaniel sang a song like this in his heart as he came out from under his fig tree.

Love Like Jesus – Rhett Walker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s