Today’s Gospel: John 1:45-51
Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
Happy feast day! St. Bartholomew, a.k.a. Nathaniel, is in my top three of favorite apostles along with St. Andrew and St. Peter. Today’s reading is the big reason why. It is the only time Nathaniel is mentioned in the Bible, except in the synoptic gospels when listed under his Greek name, Bartholomew, among the 12. Nonetheless, John gives us some interesting insight into this holy disciple.
John’s recounting of the day Nathaniel met Jesus always leaves me smiling and wondering.
First, when Philip announces to Nathaniel that he has found the Messiah, a man named Jesus from Nazareth, Nathaniel muses, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Apparently, Nathaniel is the type of guy who calls things as he sees them! After all, Nazareth is just a small, insignificant village in Galilee. Still, probably because he longed and hoped for the coming of the Chosen One, he goes with Philip to meet Jesus.
Then Jesus has his fun with Nathaniel. As Nathaniel and Philip are approaching, Jesus declares, “Here is a true son of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Jesus is being quite oxymoronic. Israel (Jacob) is very duplicitous. He cheats his brother out of his birthright, and he deceives his father in order to receive the blessing meant for his twin. Yet, Jesus is sincere when he proclaims that in Nathaniel there is no guile.
Such a proclamation takes Nathaniel aback. He wants to know how Jesus knows him so well. Jesus reveals that he saw Nathaniel under the fig tree before Philip even reached him. Immediately, Nathaniel proclaims Jesus to be “the Son of God; …the King of Israel.” So I wonder, what was Nathaniel doing under the fig tree?
No one has ever been able to answer that question for me. Pondering possibilities has been fun, though. I do not think it coincidence that Nathaniel was under a fig tree. Fig trees are prominent in Scripture. Jesus makes it very clear that fig trees are to produce fruit. Of this I am sure: whatever Nathaniel was doing showed Jesus that 1) Nathaniel longed for the Messiah, 2) he was an honest, forthright man, and 3) he would one day bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
St. Bartholomew, after the ascension, eventually made his way to India and Armenia to proclaim the Good News. There, he suffered martyrdom in a most excruciating way; he was flayed. Hence, St. Bartholomew is often portrayed in art with a tanner’s knife. In Michelangelo’s depiction of him on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, St. Bartholomew is holding his own skin. Perhaps it was during his flaying that the saint saw “heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
What would Jesus say about you, if he were to give you a compliment?
Holy St. Bartholomew, pray for me that when heaven is opened to me and I see the angels of God and Jesus Himself, I may be found with no duplicity, with a heart full of love, and a life spent for Him. Together we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
We thank our friends at The Word Among Us for providing our gospel reflection team with copies of Abide In My Word 2015: Mass Readings at Your Fingertips. To pray the daily gospels with this wonderful resource, visit The Word Among Us.
Copyright 2015 Kelly Guest