May 2021

 

 

Letter from Fr Scott, our curate

One of my favourite apostles is Nathanael (or Bartholomew, as he is named in 3 of the 4 gospels). In the Gospel of John, Jesus finds Philip who then finds Bartholomew and tells him about Jesus. Philip also tells him he’s from Nazareth, and Bartholomew famously replies ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’

I think that’s a great reply. It’s world-weary and a little cynical, but it’s also honest. And Jesus knows this, of course, because he’s already seen Bartholomew sitting under a fig tree before Philip calls him with that tantalising ‘Come and see’. I imagine Jesus formulating an opinion of Bartholomew whilst his disciple-to-be sits under that tree, because when Philip brings him along, Jesus announces ‘here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’

And then there’s this little exchange between them. Bartholomew asks how Jesus knows him, and Jesus reveals he saw him before Philip did. So Bartholomew exclaims, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ It’s quite a statement. And I imagine Jesus being quite amused, because he replies ‘Do you believe because I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these’ (John 1.43-51).

Bartholomew is likely a family name, possibly from bar-Tolmai, or ‘son of the furrows’, suggesting he was a farmer’s son. Nathanael, which means ‘God has given’, may be another name people knew him by. Having that family name and being from Cana, which was outside Jerusalem and possibly a farming community, Bartholomew may have been a farmer himself.

This makes sense when we read about him sitting under a fig tree. I imagine him resting from his work and taking a little shade in the heat of the day. He may also have been an observant Jew, and so I imagine him praying. And this duty to God, plus his life as a hardworking son of the soil – this Israelite ‘in whom there is no deceit’ – might well have caught Jesus’ eye and impressed him.

We don’t hear much of Bartholomew after that. He’s present in one of the resurrection accounts in John 21 when Jesus appears to them on the beach after they’ve been out fishing. Extra-biblical tradition sees him journeying to India and later to Armenia, where it’s said he met up with fellow apostle Jude Thaddeus and introduced Christianity to the people. Tradition says Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia, supposedly flayed alive by whips and beheaded.

So why is Bartholomew my favourite apostle? I do a fair bit of sitting under trees – not fig trees, mind: there aren’t many in the woods near me – but the usual British stuff like birch and oak and beech. I sit and meditate, and I often pray and give thanks for the beauty of creation around me. Very Franciscan.

Bartholomew was probably doing similar. And I think he was waiting for something, too. That something was his saviour – the long awaited king that would give hope to an oppressed people and lead them from bondage. Bartholomew’s reaction shows his longing, and perhaps suggests a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Jesus’ supernatural knowledge convinces him, and Bartholomew seizes on it.

It’s a sign for him. It’s God moving in his life, a revelation that his search is over, and yet is just beginning. Bartholomew has found God in the person of Jesus Christ and doesn’t think twice about what to do. Like the other apostles, he abandons his old life and takes up the new, the unknown.

Bartholomew’s story, or what we know if it, is probably typical of how many turn to face God after years of working and waiting, maybe searching in the wrong places. His story, like that of his fellow disciples, is a story of revelation, redemption and renewal.

Philip’s words to Bartholomew are those of Christ himself when he calls us to serve him – ‘Come and see’. Tantalising words indeed. Life can never be the same.

Fr Scott


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