Monday, April 26, 2010
There dangles from the eaves of my house, like a ruby hourglass, a hummingbird feeder; a lighthouse suspended for those self-propelled ships of the air with beaks almost as long as their thumb-sized bodies. It was March when I hoisted myself onto the railing of my deck, some thirty-six feet in the air and coiled it's attaching wire through the metal on the eaves. There it hung--a signal that a sugar water banquet had been spread. And then I waited. See I have a thing for hummingbirds. Amazing to me are their tiny wings that flutter and flap over sixty times before I can finish saying one Mississippi. Unfathomable. And I want to be with them. I want to see them; to watch them. So the routine begins each year after the feeder has been filled and hung that I take my quiet time outside on one of my red rockers--painted red over black or white as another signal to them that food is nearby--and watch. I know they will come, and so it is only a waiting game. Eventually I hear it--a sound not unlike that of a bumblebee and yet distinctively different, more purposeful, almost like an ant-sized helicopter. And without moving my body at all, I avert my eyes from the passage I am reading to watch his first landing, his first sip of the nectar I've prepared.
To describe how I feel when he comes is probably an exercise in futility but I will try. I plan for them. I think about the reds of blossoms, the nectar giving properties of the flowers I choose, the overall appeal of the plants I place in my gardens and planters all in relation to the hummingbird. And that first motoring sound of his wings, the signal that he has come, is so entirely expected--I knew he'd come because I'd made everything ready for him--and yet so entirely gratifying--the work I'd done yielded the desired results.
Then begins a week or so of just watching, enjoying. Every morning I sit on the rocker propping my Bible against my knees, coffee mug placed precariously on the rocker's arm or more solidly on last year's abandoned toad habitat, and wait. They both come now--male and female--to drink. Every morning. Usually twice. They return too, throughout the day, but it is in the morning that I see them. And eventually I begin to move around them. When they become confident that I won't harm them, I attempt to make their photo which too is an exercise in futility since no image I've ever collected has compared to the real thing. But I try.
It's about 8 square inches, I'd say. The space occupied by feeder and bird can't be much more than that in size. I have to zoom right in with my camera to bring that small section of life into focus. Atop the hill from my neighbor's vantage, you'd never know they were there. Just eight tiny inches of a world filled with statues of liberty, Mount Everests and Grand Canyons--so insignificant really. But I see those eight square inches every single day. I observe them with joy, with care, with determination, with dedication. I am unstoppingly compelled to enjoy them because it was I who made a place for them; it was I who planned for them. And they came--to my eight square inches.
I read from John the first morning I waited for the birds to join me. Jesus had been in Bethany and decided to travel north to Galilee. Nothing Jesus ever did was coincidence. He did, after all, have the knowledge of God miraculously available to his human form. So when he found Philip and spoke, "Follow me" I believe though Philip may have been floored, Jesus was probably expecting him. And upon being told to follow, Philip did exactly what I would have done. He ran off to Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
A little history for those who may not already know. The Jews were living under Roman rule. They had been without a word from God or prophet for around 400 years. 400 years of oppression, of battles, of existence without any tangible hope or proof that their God still cared. 400 hundred years of silence. Have you ever felt that heaven remained silent while you called and called under your throat was dry and your voice no longer made a sound? Amongst a melting pot of cultures, beliefs, peoples from all manner of nations--Greek Roman, German, Egyptian, African--and multiple gods to go with each nation, the Jews had been left to wonder if any of it had ever even been real. How was their God any different from the pagan gods of other nations? And yet they had the law of Moses. They had the words of the prophets promising that someday a Messiah would come. And their understanding of this promise was much more literal than is ours today. They understood it to mean that when their Messiah came it would mean redemption from Roman rule, and the oppressive rule of other kings and emperors that He would bring. He would be King, but not of their hearts, of their literal world. They saw their countrymen brutally crucified on jagged spikes, they lost their husbands and their children to Roman whims, they gave their last coins to the Roman tax and lived in towns where Roman soldiers could drop their heavy packs before them and insist they carry the load of Rome for a mile. Though their lives were not all bad; they did live in fear. And I would venture to say that many if not all had doubts and there had to have been those who were cynical at best and more than likely hopeless. Nathanael, a Galilean himself knew the basin in which Nazareth lay and transparently replied to Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" In him there would not be found political correctness, nor any desire to pretend that he believed the prophecy of a Messiah could be fulfilled by a carpenter from Nazareth.
Philip simply told him "Come and see." Come and see for himself--which on a side note is perhaps the most wonderful evangelistic phrase ever spoken. We spend so much time trying to learn the best evangelistic teachings, approaches and methods when all Philip said was, "Come and see." An invitation to come and discover Christ from a trusted person may be the most compelling way to share the path of Jesus ever used. (Exit tangent.)
As soon as Jesus sees Nathanael he says, "Look a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" In other words, "Here's the real deal. Here's a man who is authentic and in whom I find no falsehood." And Nathanael says to him, "How do you know me?" How? How can you know who I am? I'm just a Galilean--one of thousands. Tell me how you--a carpenter from Nazareth--can presume to know my heart?
And without hesitation Jesus says, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." I saw you, Nathanael before Philip ever even told you to come and see, I saw you. No one will ever know what it was Nathanael was doing or thinking under the fig tree, but Jesus looked into that man's eyes and told him where he was located before Philip came to get him. Nathanael had to have felt the same hopelessness as other Jewish men and women and he had to have wondered at some time, "Does this God even care?" And Jesus said to him, "I saw you."
Nathanael is like the hummingbird. God had a plan for him just as I had a plan for that hummingbird. The plan involved a relationship. God didn't intend just to redeem Israel but to bring all mankind as individuals to Himself. Just as I set out a feeder to bring the hummingbirds to my home and waited patiently for their arrival, Jesus had to have anticipated the moment when he could look into Nathanael's eyes and say, "I know you exist and I care." That tiny little portion of earth under the fig tree may have only been a few square inches, but Jesus saw it.
You'll remember the story of Hagar when she was cast out of Abraham and Sarah's home with her son Ishmael and God introduced himself as Jehovah El Roi--The God who Sees. Is that not a beautiful name for the God we worship? He is the God who sees you. And no matter how small, how insignificant and unimportant your few square inches of earth may be, it does not go unnoticed. It does not go unplanned for. It does not go uncared for. It does not go untended. It does not go unwatched. And mark my words, it DOES NOT GO UNLOVED.
He sees the miner's wife as she weeps into her pillow at night over her husband's death. He sees the young girl in the inner city whose mother lives on welfare and doesn't know who her father is. He sees the swollen belly of the baby in Angola and the boy in the mountains of Afghanistan taught to shoot long before he understands the value of life. He sees the barren woman and the unemployed man. He sees. He sees the overwhelmed student and the stroke victim. He sees the greedy man and the hungry man, the raging woman and the abused. There is no square inch space on this entire planet that Jehovah El Roi does not see.
As I sit each morning and watch that crimson feeder for the arrival of the hummingbird I can't help but consider my antics. It seems silly that I should care so much for such a little thing, but I do. And that in that moment I'm overwhelmed by the reality that the obsession I nurture is entirely and utterly minuscule in comparison to the obsession of God on my behalf. As I focus on that feeder, it is I who am watched. It is I who am tended. And it is I who am seen. By the God of the universe. And you too, are seen.
Nathanael responded to Jesus by saying, "...You are the son of God; you are the king of Israel!" He responded with belief. I don't know where you are in life, but He knows. He cares He sees you. Do you believe?