Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles, usually identified with Nathanael. According to tradition he preached in India and Armenia and was martyred by being skinned alive. When Philip told him about Jesus, Nathanael at first dismissed it, saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But he goes with Philip to see Jesus, who says to Nathanael, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael replies, “Where did you get to know me? And Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:46-49).
What does this mean? Jesus praises Nathanael as a true Israelite. Jacob had been deceitful but after struggling with God, his name was changed to Israel. The prophet Hosea spoke of Israel as being like a fig tree: “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree, in its first season, I saw your ancestors” (9:10). Did Jesus have that text in mind? Perhaps under the fig tree Nathanael had been struggling with God in prayer, and was changed, like Jacob, into a true Israelite. He was like the fig tree that brought forth good fruit. From this we can gather that despite his initial skepticism about Jesus, Nathanael had a pure heart open to the truth.
John’s Gospel opens and closes with doubting apostles: Nathanael at the beginning, and Thomas at the end. Despite their initial resistance, they both believed in Jesus and became great apostles. Their example can give us courage to keep on being disciples even if we feel inadequate.
Saint Bartholomew, pray for us that like you, we may have hearts that are true and good, free of any deceit, so that we may prove to be faithful disciples of Jesus despite any difficulties.
© 2017, Daughters of Saint Paul