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Questions can guide a discussion, encourage reflection, deflect opposition, uncover a secret, stir animosity, invite the timid, undo the proud.

In his exchanges with others, Jesus often utilizes questions. I am not suggesting that he manipulates conversations or that he is sneaky in what he does. Jesus, in drawing others to faith and engaging them in genuine relationship, often seasons his conversations with questions. So, I am watching and trying to understand something about Jesus through the questions he asks.

Early in his public ministry, Jesus begins to gather a few followers to join him, participate with him in what he is going to do. Philip is one of those he invites. And Philip went and found another, Nathanael.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:45-51)

When Nathanael initially responds to Philip, he does it with a question. Nathanael is “dissing” Nazareth; the region did not have a good reputation in Jesus’ day. And in Nathanael’s first exchange with Jesus, he asks Jesus a question rooted in his surprise at what Jesus has said to him. So, Jesus affirms that he, in fact, saw Nathanael before Philip found him. And in light of that affirmation, Nathanael makes a startling confession: “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Does Nathanael fully understand what he is saying? It seems unlikely at this point in his experience with Jesus. Does Nathanael fully grasp what it means for Jesus to be the true “Son of God . . . King of Israel”? Highly unlikely–and this is evident in how slow he is (and the other disciples are) in grasping what Jesus tells them in the subsequent months. Nevertheless, Nathanael has seen something in Jesus that is compelling, and Nathanael responds to what he sees.

This prompts Jesus’ question. ““Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?” How can we understand this question? It seems that there are two dimensions to this question.

First, Jesus may well be asking. “Is that all it takes, Nathanael, for you to make such an astounding confession? Have you drawn a final and full conclusion about who I am simply because I could see you before we physically met?”

Jesus might also be raising another issue in this question. “Do you really believe, Nathanael, having been impressed by me in what I said to you? Are you really giving into, coming to trust me and rely on me, at this point in time?”

In other words, Jesus’ questions raises the issues of whether Nathanael has found sufficient evidence to reliably identify Jesus and whether, in so identifying him, he is willing to abandon himself to Jesus in faith. Jesus takes Nathanael’s confession at face value, but invites him to go further. Jesus is inviting Nathanael to “keep going” through the question he asks.

It occurs to me that Jesus does this with me as well. I see something in him, something that impresses me. And I boldly insist: “I get it! I see you. I know who you are. I know what you’ve come to do.” And Jesus graciously meets me there and invites me to go farther: “You see? Really? That’s wonderful. Have you seen enough? Are you satisfied? Has you seeing been sufficient? Or is there yet a bit more that I could show you that would draw you even deeper into this life with me?”

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