In the tradition of the Church, Bartholomew and Nathaniel are the same person. Think of Nathaniel as his first name and Bartholomew as his last name, since it designates his sonship. We have many obscure Saints in our Church, but it is always fascinating when, even among the first Twelve Apostles of Our Lord, there can be so little known about them.
Although we may not know so much about the life of this Saint after the Ascension of Our Lord, and he is barely highlighted in the Gospels besides being listed among the Twelve in a handful of passages, Nathaniel has a lot to teach us. When we think of what it means to follow Jesus, we may often turn to Peter, Paul, or John for our first look. But take a look at Nathaniel. The interaction between him and Our Lord recounted in the Gospel of John (see John 1:43-51) deserves our attention.
In an echo of the events that unfolded for Andrew and Simon Peter (see John 1:35-42), Nathaniel is approached by a friend, Philip, who just encountered the Lord. In this encounter, Philip became convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and wished for Nathaniel to also come and meet the Christ. There were certain words that made him pause, however: “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (John 1:45). The future disciple wondered if anything good could come from such a place.
Can you relate, sister? How often do we not find ourselves questioning if the Lord could use this person or that situation for anything worthwhile?
Yet, here we must pause to honor the simple words of Philip that made all of the difference: “Come and see” (John 1:46). This is the same invitation made to us when we are uncertain if the Lord can do something astounding or if He is truly present in our lives.
Nathaniel models for us a prompt response to this invitation. Putting aside his questions on the worthiness of Nazareth to be the home of the Messiah, he goes to find out for himself. He is then met by the gaze of Christ, a gaze that truly sees him.
One of my favorite titles of the Lord in the Scriptures is found in Genesis 16:13, when the slave-woman Hagar calls the Lord El-Roi, which means, “The God Who Sees.”
Sister, like Nathaniel, can we believe that as we approach the Lord, as we turn our hearts to Him, He sees us? This moment must have been more than we can comprehend through the text alone since at seeing Nathaniel, Jesus makes a declaration that astounds him and stirs him to faith.
Jesus compliments Nathaniel with a phrase He does not repeat of any other person: he is an “Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (John 1: 47). Jesus looked at him and saw him–not his hang ups or his questioning and doubts. Our Lord saw Nathaniel’s heart and found there an authentic, faithful man.
The Question and the Answer
How striking would it be to hear these same words spoken of us, sister? “Here is one in whom there is no deceit.” How disarming, striking, yet also alarming as it discloses that the Lord knows me entirely–in my coming and going, in my showing off and in my hiding, at the pulpit and in my secret place, He knows me. The Lord sees me and He sees you, sister, just as He saw Nathaniel.
As Nathaniel asks Jesus where it was that He got to know him, I can almost hear the hesitancy in his voice and perhaps the expectation of the answer. What if something good can come out of Nazareth? What if Philip was right and this man is the Messiah? What if he really does know me?
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48).
Jesus’ answer undid Nathaniel’s hesitancy, that uneasiness he felt with a Stranger claiming to know him so deeply so as to see the intentions of his heart. What must have happened under that fig tree between the Lord and Nathaniel? What secret prayer had he prayed from his depths? Maybe he was bowing in prayer asking for the coming of the Messiah and the deliverance of Israel? Perhaps he was surrendering something dear to him or making an act of true worship to the Lord, there in this place where he thought he was alone with God.
A Revelation of Love
Yet, Jesus saw him under the fig tree and this declaration was enough to rouse in Nathaniel such deep faith and assurance of the identity of Jesus that he exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).
It was first curiosity that led Nathaniel to “go and see” who this Jesus was. As he was now faced with an immediate revelation–a revelation of his own heart and of Jesus’ divine identity–Nathaniel’s heart was moved to see Christ. He saw him now not just as merely the man of whom Philip spoke, but as Someone who was much more than what could be seen with earthly eyes and also Someone who knew him intimately.
Sister, on this feast of Saint Bartholomew, may we entertain for a moment the thought that we ourselves are approaching the Lord. What does He say about you when He sees you? Do you also see that more than the list of faults you think He is focused on? The Lord, in His tender mercy and intimate love, is focused on you–who you really are in your depths. Let Him undo your own hesitancy and fill your days with faith that He truly is El-Roi, the God Who sees.
Will you take time to pray with this passage from the Gospel of John today?