There are times in life when we each feel like an anonymous unknown. It’s a discouraging realization. You’re a statistic—a woman or a man, over forty or under forty, single or married, able-bodied or disabled. Every so often, you put your vote in the ballot box and wonder if it makes a difference. If you didn’t show up to work today, you wonder if anyone (apart from the payroll department) would even notice. Not many achieve the type of fame that would make us stand out in the mass of humanity. And even if we do, fame is lean comfort in difficult times, and usually transitory.
The reality is that few of us feel like Very Important Persons (VIPs), much less are viewed that way by the world at large.
Perhaps this was how Nathanael felt, living in first-century Palestine under the shadow of a brutal military occupation. We’re not told why he was sitting alone under a fig tree—maybe he was reflecting on his powerlessness to change anything; maybe he was in prayer. At any rate, his friend Philip finds him and shares some good news—they have found the Messiah. Nathanael agrees to come and meet Jesus. The conversation bears repeating:
As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
“How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”1
Nathanael is astonished to find out that God has been watching him. It is the realization that God knows him that inspires him to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and become an enthusiastic follower.
Even when nobody else seems to be thinking about us, God certainly is! He’s been watching over us our entire lives, even before we were born, and will continue all the way through.2 Job reflected on this while in the midst of his troubles: “He keeps a close watch on everything I do.”3