August 24, 2012 - Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Revelation 21:9-14
Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18
John 1:45-51

Jesus and Nathaniel bar-Tholomew have a sort of inside joke that we are not in on. Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree” and Nathaniel responds, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” I like to imagine that one day Nathaniel was standing under a fig tree out in the wilderness and said to himself, “There is no one around. No one can see me now except the Lord himself.” And maybe this was a password between him and God. Perhaps he said in prayer one day, “God, when you send the Messiah, let him say these words to me so that I know who he is: ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’”

Whatever it was that was so special about that fig tree, Nathaniel proves Jesus right. He hears the words and he does not pause but answers immediately, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Here truly is a man without duplicity, a real Israelite. He asked for a sign; he got it; and he believed. There was no backtracking or wondering whether the sign was authentic or a coincidence. Jesus promises Nathaniel greater signs, but Nathaniel is satisfied with this little sign. He was a simple man, not in the sense of being stupid but in the sense that when he got exactly what he asked for, that was good enough.

How often did the scribes and Pharisees test Jesus! Yet they were so twisted that they convinced themselves that Jesus was working miracles and preaching repentance from sins by the power of the devil. How many miracles did the crowds see! Yet they could not see past the signs to the reality of who Jesus is. Nathaniel came to Jesus with his prejudices about people from Nazareth ("Can anything good come from Nazareth?"); he even seems a little angry when Jesus gives him a compliment: “How do you know me?”, he says, but as soon as he receives the sign he does not mince any words: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Let us pray to St. Nathaniel bar-Tholomew for the grace of simple faith. He was an Apostle and a martyr. He spent the rest of his life preaching the Gospel and died a witness to the faith, all because he believed when Jesus told him, “I saw you under the fig tree.”