I was not the first person to hide from God, and I didn’t know that my hiding place was darkened by the shade of that tree. There was a garden once where people hid from God. They picked the prickly leaves of that tree and fashioned the first and most uncomfortable clothes from fig leaves. I have imagined them hovering behind the thick leaves, trembling fruit between them, perhaps grown bitter like everything must have grown bitter after what they had done, or perhaps still sweet since it had always been allowed. The people might have hidden under any tree, but in my mind it was the fig tree.
They were hiding there, and then time jumped to a day when Nathaniel was under a fig tree, pondering those first people, wondering at how he himself was hiding from God. Would he hide from God, he asked himself, if God walked by? Then Jesus called him and said to him, “I saw you when you were under the fig tree,” and Nathaniel knew that Jesus was God, and God had seen him under the tree, not only the tree where he pondered, but its ancient ancestor whose roots stood under his ancient ancestors. Nathaniel immediately confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. I can hear the smile in Jesus’ words when He tells Nathaniel to expect to see greater things than this.
And then we arrive at Holy Week, when a fig tree does not bear fruit and receives a curse and withers down to its roots. Who can know all the meanings of that sign? I know only one of them, the meaning to the people who were hiding in the shadow of that tree. They were suddenly set free from their hiding place. Well, almost set free. Because many of them had grown so used to hiding that they had its roots growing through their veins, its leaves covering their faces, it’s sticky fruits souring in their dusty mouths. Those people needed someone to walk into the shade of the tree to get them. They needed someone to unhide them, face to face.
The Bridegroom came for them, for we, for I, who sat under that tree, trembling. He was bound by the withered roots on the way in, and He plucked up the tree when He came up from the dark.
I say this to you casually, as though it doesn’t sting and sear our eyes to be so exposed to light after so long hiding. Forgive my tone. It’s not flippancy, but the result of an unspilled secret. See, my fellow hiders, He has given us a new tree to hide under!