All the way to see Jesus, perhaps, Nathanael was imagining awful things about Jesus. He was lowering his expectations. You know the feeling right? When we are doing someone a favor and we thinking about their neediness and our compassion on them.
“I know you think this is the best restaurant ever, but this is a really small town. I’ve been to GOOD restaurants.”
“I know you think this is a smart person but he hasn’t been to any good schools.”
We are thinking about how wrong they are about their great idea.
I think that’s why Nathanael was stunned when Jesus spoke to him. As Philip and Nathanael were walking up to Jesus and maybe three other people, Jesus said “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
This would have been the last thing Nathanael would have expected. After all, his comment to his friend Philip about Jesus had been “can anything good come from Nazareth?”
With this kind of public greeting, Nathanael is stuck. Either Jesus is a sham, in which case you can’t trust what he says (and Nathanael would desperately like these words to be true of him) or Jesus is completely accurate, in which case Philip was right and Nathanael completely wrong.
So Nathanael says, “how do you know me?”
Nathanael had a lot riding on this question. A true son of Israel, one who actually cared about Messiah, about following well. We have to assume that Jesus wasn’t flattering him, that Jesus was actually describing who Nathanael was, who he was trying to be.
And now, he’s risking everything with one question for this potential Messiah: how do you know me?
And Jesus tells him where he was sitting.
What a waste of insight! Think of all the things Jesus could have said about Nathanael’s thoughts or sins or doubts or struggles or stupidity or mistreatment of people as a child. Jesus could have made him miserable.
That’s what we expect of God at times. Shaming us.
Instead, Jesus told him a simple concrete detail from the past 15 minutes.
And Nathanael knew he’d found the rabbi he wanted to follow.
A rabbi who knew everything and didn’t use it for guilt. Who more than dominance wanted relationship.