Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Nathanael/Nathaniel comes from the Hebrew name נְתַנְאֵל/Nethan'el meaning "God has given".  Bartholomew/Bartholomaios comes from the Aramaic bar-Tôlmay (תולמי‎‎‎‎‎-בר‎‎), meaning son of Tolmay or son of the furrows, perhaps a ploughman. For a long time people have assumed that St. Bartholomew, Apostle, is the same person as Nathanael who appears in John's Gospel. In that story (1:43-51) Philip tells Nathanael that he and others think they've found the Messiah, the Anointed One: Jesus from Nazareth. Nathanael doesn't disguise his low estimation of Nazareth and its inhabitants: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" You get the impression that Nathanael was probably one of those men who doesn't hesitate to say what he thinks, no matter how blunt, no matter how it might be taken. To his credit, Philip responds in a way which can serve as an excellent guide for us in responding to folks who initially turn up their noses at the mention of Jesus, or of God, or of religion: "Come and see.

Nathanael doesn't even finish approaching before Jesus exclaims: "Here's a truly honest Jewish man!" What better quality for one who, though he still doesn't know it, is being recruited to spread the Good News of God in the Christ! Nathanael, however, is still wary of this Nazarene. "Where did you get to know me?" We don't know the background of Jesus' cryptic reply, but the sense is that Jesus has had his eye on Nathanael for awhile without the latter's knowing it. He apparently observed Nathanael "under the fig tree", either close by or from afar, well before Philip approached Nathanael. What this "observation" consisted in, we don't know, but it was likely a rather deep experience. When Jesus acknowledges it aloud, Nathanael is blown away, and, in an instant, recognizes that this man from Nazareth is exactly who Philip claimed he was. "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

Jesus promises Nathanael that "You will see greater things than these...", then uses words referring to Genesis 28:12 and Jacob's dream at Bethel, where Jacob envisioned a ladder reaching to heaven, on which God's messengers were ascending and descending, an indication that God provides humankind with an open means  of communicating with the living God. It's an image of one's life, one's experiences, the people in one's life. In Jacob's words: "Surely the Lord is in this place -- and I did not know it!...How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God [beth + el], and this is the gate of heaven." Here, if anywhere, is where life is lived: in the exact context of my own given life circumstances, so that I don't have to go running around searching for where God is and operates. It's right here, even in the things, events, and people that I don't really prefer sometimes, even in places where I wouldn't ever think to look for God.

Nathanael was later present with the others beside the Sea of Galilee at the resurrection. Likely, he was by then, a long time after the fig tree, astounded at his depth of comprehension of what this Nazarene had come to mean in his life and in that of those surrounding him. I'm guessing he no longer so quickly voiced his opinions on peoples' places of origin!   

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