One of the beating hearts of material philosophy is the strain to derive universals from particulars: i.e., what could we derive about phenomena, a posteriori from experiencing instances of observed phenomena? This goal might be a good fit for science but in ethical philosophy its application can get dicey. “How ought we to live?” is a question that presumes there’s a universal answer waiting to be discovered.
What if the answer isn’t so certain? It feels wrong to reduce Jesus to mere situational ethics, but it helps to consider we might be asking the wrong question—or rather, we may be thinking of the question incorrectly. There’s ample material to show that Jesus’ response to rather precise questions were answered in kind, with equal precision, tailored to the man posing the question; literally ad hominem. To Him, context isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. His answers, when He gave them (is silence an answer?), were dangerous Machiavellian dodges. “Dangerous” because people from a wide range of pedigrees were posing these questions to Him, and many of them were people in power waiting for Him to say the wrong thing. Sparking confusion in the minds of those who wanted to entrap Him may have led to His demise more so than charges of blasphemy.
Would Jesus be down with baking a gay cake? The only answer I can give is the maddening return question of: “Who’s asking for it?”
Thought experiment time. Here’s how it might go down if He slung flour instead of fir*.
The gay couple they came to Him, requesting a cake to be made for their wedding. He agreed to it and took their order.
When the day came to pick up the cake, the couple found Him at the bakery’s counter, eating leftover scraps of their cake.
“Is that our cake?” they asked Him. “Have you eaten it all?”
He put down his fork and spoke. “Why are you surprised? Just I am eating these rejected scraps of cake, and have thrown your actual cake away in the garbage, so my Father selects from the most humble and repentant among us, and condemns the self-righteous from His presence. Here, you may have the scraps.”
* As in, the tree. There probably weren’t fir trees in 1st (“fir”st?) century Galilee, but despite being the son of a 20th century woodworker, no other carpentry “f” terms come to me.
In the last part of John 1, Jesus recruits Philip, who then goes to tell Nathanael about Him. Nathanael is skeptical but does an about-face when he asks Jesus how He knew him. It’s implied that there is some divine foreknowledge on Jesus’ part when He said “I saw you” under the fig tree; presumably, Jesus wasn’t physically there when Philip approached Nathanael and saw him, in the perceptual/visual sense, as described in verse 47. I doubt much that John (or any Biblical writer) set the scene up as he did with wasted words. The narrative is such a way for a reason.
While I’m on the concept of wasted words, the mention of the “fig tree” comes to mind. Those of us not acculturated with 1st century Judaism wouldn’t make much of it, but there is significance. Fig trees were utilized as places of prayer, and prayer, at that time of political unrest, almost always concerned itself with the coming Messiah. At the risk of reading context into the words, it seems Jesus found Nathanael’s impetuous change of mind a little silly, since Jesus could easily be lying about his foreknowledge. It was a simple parlor trick compared to what would come later. Nathanel’s interest is stoked, and that seemed to be enough for the time being.
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,[k] you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”