Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “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!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
The identity of St. Bartholomew is something of a puzzle. He is listed among the Twelve Apostles of Christ in all three Synoptic gospels (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16) and also as being present at the Ascension, (Acts 1:4,12,13) — and each time he is put alongside the Apostle Philip. While he is not mentioned in John, he is traditionally identified with Nathanael, who is portrayed as Philip's friend (John 1:45-51.) Under this name, Nathanael, he is described as initially doubting that the Messiah could come from Nazareth (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) But Jesus calls him “a man in whom there is no deception.” Some trace the enigmatic phrase “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” to a Jewish metaphor referring to studying the Torah. At any rate, Nathanael soon recognizes Jesus as “Son of God” and “King of Israel.” He reappears at the end of the gospel (Jn 21:2) as one of those to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection.
Today's homily could focus either on the personal touch in Nathanael's vocation — as an individual who was called by name, and one who was totally understood by Jesus; or on the general vocation of the Twelve, as the foundational group whom Jesus chose to lead and guide his church. In that case, the imagery from Revelation (twelve angels; twelve city gates; twelve foundation stones) is seen to reflect the transition from the old Israel (of the twelve tribes) to the new City of God, founded by Jesus on the faith and fidelity of his twelve original missionaries (= “apostles”).
Bartholomew is traditionally identified with Nathanael who features in our gospel today. Jesus pays him a lovely compliment, “Here is an Israelite, incapable of deceit” or “in whom there is no deceit.” Jesus admired his openness and honesty. Even his dusty opinion about Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was, at least, an honest opinion; it was what he believed. Nathanael went on to recognize that his honest opinion about Nazareth was a mistaken one. He came to see that Jesus from Nazareth was none other than the Son of God and the King of Israel.
It takes generosity of heart and spirit to recognize when we have got it wrong, and recognize that our opinion of some person or place was based on our prejudices rather than on reality. Nathanael's honesty and generosity of heart can be an inspired to us on this his feast day. The final word of the gospel, however, is given to Jesus, not to Nathanael. It takes the form of that wonderful promise Jesus makes to him, “You will see greater things… You will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.” We may have a certain insight into Jesus, a certain appreciation of him, like Nathanael, but Jesus assures us that there is so much more to see and appreciate. In our relationship with Jesus, we are always only towards the beginning of our journey. There are always “greater things” to see. [MH]