Jesus did not directly call Nathanael to be one of the Twelve, He called Philip.
It sounds from the Gospel reading that Jesus actively sought out Philip to invite him to become one of the inner band of apostles, just as He had deliberately invited Andrew the previous day.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus calls people from their work to follow Him, but here in John’s Gospel Jesus calls disciples of John the Baptist to change their religious allegiance in order to follow Jesus.
Andrew brough his brother Simon to Jesus and, in today’s reading, Philip seeks out his friend Nathanael, eagerly telling him that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Messiah.
But Nathanael is highly sceptical; “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, possibly Nathanial is using a local proverb as people from the region of Nazareth were not popular in Judea.
But despite his scepticism Nathanael went with his friend and meets Jesus.
As soon as Jesus spotted Nathanael, He saw a young man who was honest and upright, someone who might be outspoken in his views but who bore no malice and would be a loyal and faithful supporter.
Perhaps it was this characteristic of open transparency which Jesus saw in little children. When Jesus was teaching His friends about the kingdom of God, He told them that in order to enter the kingdom, they must receive it like a little child.
And just as a little child is instantly trusting, so Nathanael immediately trusted and believed in Jesus, simply because Jesus told him that He saw him standing under a fig tree when Philip found him. But Nathanael was aware that this was more than just a clever display of clairvoyance.
Nathanael was conscious that Jesus actually knew him, completely and utterly, even though they had never met before.
That was enough for Nathanael.
He didn’t moderate his response or hedge his position; he gave himself wholly to Jesus and became exactly what Jesus foresaw, a loyal and faithful supporter.
Nathanael is not mentioned in any other Gospel, but he is thought to be the Bartholomew of the other three Gospels and of Acts.
Nathanael/Bartholomew went on to become a missionary, carrying the news of Jesus to Syria and Asia Minor. He was martyred in Great Armenia and remains the patron saint of Armenia today.
Nathanael came to faith through his friend. Philip didn’t urge or cajole him into flowing Jesus, but merely shared his own excitement and invited Nathanael to see for himself. Philip did no more; Jesus did all the rest. As soon as Nathanael met Jesus for himself, he believed.
As Christians, all we are required to do is share our excitement about Jesus and invite friends to come with us. Once they meet Him for themselves, they too may believe, for Jesus does all the rest.
Jesus can see the potential within every person and can bring potential to fruition.
But He needs us to say to our friends “Come and see”.