Saint Bartholomew, Apostle – Readings

Commentary on Revelation 21:9-14; Psalm 144; John 1:45-51

The Gospel reading speaks of the calling of Nathanael. Just before this Jesus had invited Philip to be a disciple. Philip then went to find Nathanael and told him:

We have found him about whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.

Philip says “we”, which may indicate the two other disciples Jesus had called earlier, Andrew and an unnamed disciple, and perhaps Peter as well, who was brought to Jesus by Andrew, his brother.

Nathanael rather dismissively comments:

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

He regarded it as a backwater not likely to produce the Messiah, the expected King of Israel. But, when he meets Jesus, Jesus immediately greets him with the words:

Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!

It is wonderful praise for anyone and it clearly takes Nathanael aback. Startled, Nathanael replied:

Where did you get to know me?

Jesus replies:

I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.

The fig tree is a symbol of messianic peace, but it is not clear how it applies to Nathanael. It is quite clear that Nathanael is completely won over and, in confirmation of Philip’s words earlier, he confesses:

Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

The title ‘Son of God’ is probably being used in a messianic sense but, for the Evangelist, it is to be taken in the fullest sense.

Jesus then goes on to say that Nathanael, if he believes, he will see even greater things:

Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

This, of course, is a reference to the dream that Jacob had of angels going up and down on a ladder between heaven and earth.

Applied to Jesus, it will mean that Nathanael will see God coming down to earth through the works of Jesus and glory being given to God through these works. The final glory will be when Jesus is lifted up on the Cross and returns to be united with his Father.

Although the reading does not mention the name of Bartholomew, its content can be applied to him and indeed to any of the disciples. It is not possible to say whether Nathanael and Bartholomew were one and the same person.

The First Reading is from the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse). It is a description of the New Jerusalem, which is the Church both now and in the future. It is called the Bride of Christ and gleams with the splendour of God.

At the end of the reading we are told that the wall of the city had 12 courses of stones for its foundation. On these stones were inscribed the names of the 12 Apostles of the Lamb. Their teaching of all that they heard from Jesus formed the foundation of the Christian community. Among them, of course, was Bartholomew.

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