The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 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.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 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.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
(John 1:43-51 ESV)
The four Gospels we consider as Scripture don’t purport to be histories. What we mean when we say that is they have a very specific focus on a piece of history, “the things Jesus began to do and teach,” as Acts 1:1 puts it. This focus, I think, causes many Christians to discount other bits of contemporary writing. It is as though just because they didn’t make the final “cut” into the Canon of Scripture, they are somehow less historical. In terms of “official” sanction, it took the work of three councils (Hippo, Carthage, and Rome, all just before 400 AD) to quell the dispute over whether 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Revelation should be included.
All of that is to say that when the Scriptures present us with a juicy tidbit from silence, there’s nothing wrong with a little historical conjecture. Here’s one. What if Nathanael (John 1:43-51), whose name is apocryphally believed to be synonymous with the Apostle Bartholomew, was the embarrassed groom mentioned in John 2 in the account of the wedding in Cana? Cana is where Nathanael was from (John 21:2). The proximity of the story of the call of Nathanael and the account of the wedding would suggest it. This explanation would also give a reason why Jesus was invited to the wedding. If the young man being married was himself one of Jesus’ disciples it would his willingness to “reveal” himself even though, as he remarked to his mother, it was not yet his time. His compliment to Nathanael (“an Israelite in whom there is no guile”) is not itself a reason for doing the miracle, but clearly Jesus was impressed with the straightforward nature of this young man.
Nathanael’s shock that Jesus seems to know him makes it appear the two hadn’t met before this “second day”. The “first day” was (perhaps) the day after Jesus’ baptism, and was the day Jesus called Andrew and Peter, who, presumably had come down the Jordan River to see the baptisms that John was doing. I’ll bet they were none-too-thrilled when Jesus decides to head north again the very next day. When they got back to their hometown (Bethsaida of Galilee), that’s where they first encountered Philip and then Nathanael. Therefore, if the wedding in Cana was the very next day, this expanding band of brothers had been doing some major traveling.
I know all this sounds unspiritual and kind of like I’m writing an itinerary, but the idea that Jesus is working his ministry into the flow of “real life” is really kind of comforting to me. More than that, the idea that Nathanael’s first encounter with Christ – a huge moment – doesn’t short circuit his either going to a wedding (perhaps his own), says that Jesus isn’t just plucking these people off the street and taking them on the road like Robin Hood or some cult leader.
Christ certainly meets us where we are in the midst of life and tends to work with us there. Fishermen are still fishermen. Carpenters are still carpenters. Mothers still behave like mothers (think of Mary’s intervention at the wedding). Sometimes Jesus makes us rethink how we’re doing our chosen profession (Matthew would have had a hard time being a tax collector after meeting Jesus), but Jesus never tells Matthew to stop. He simply moves among people and affects them to the core.