24Aug 24 August. St Bartholomew, Apostle

1st Reading: Revelation (21:9-14)

The City of God has twelve gates, representing the twelve apostles

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.

Responsorial (Ps 145)

R./: Your friends, O Lord, make known the glorious splendour of your reign

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and declare your might, o God. (R./)

Making known to men your might
and the glorious splendour of your Kingdom.
Yours is an everlasting Kingdom ,
and your rule lasts through all generations. (R./)

The Lord is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
who call upon him from their hearts. (R./)

Gospel: John (1:45-51)

The vocation of Nathanael, whose name is linked with Bartholomew

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.”


Our Founding Fathers

The identity of the apostle Bartholomew is something of a puzzle. He is listed among the Twelve 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”).

An outspoken doubter

Bartholomew is traditionally identified with the Nathanael to whom Jesus pays this lovely compliment in today’s gospel, “Here is an Israelite, incapable of deceit.” Jesus admired this man’s openness and honesty, even when Nathanael shared his low opinion about Jesus’ home town. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was his first impression, but he went on to recognize that this views was a mistaken one. Nathanael (Bartholomew) later came to see that Jesus from Nazareth was none other than the Son of God and the King of Israel.

It takes generosity of spirit to recognize when we are wrong, and recognize that our opinion of some person or place was based on our prejudices rather than on reality. Nathanael’s honesty can inspire us on this his feast day. But it is Jesus, not Nathanael, who has the final word in today’s gospel. It takes the form of that wonderful promise:, “You will see greater things… You will see heaven laid open and the angels of God ascending and descending above the Son of Man.” We may have some insight into Jesus, a certain appreciation of him, like Nathanael, but there is so much more to see and appreciate. In our relationship with Jesus, we are always open to new discovery. There are always “greater things” to see. [MH]

2 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    Nathaniel strikes me as a very self-possessed man, a wonderful condition of life. He is a man of honesty who knows that being honest is the way to such self-possession, and being honest is no simple task. We are often deceived by other people and we often deceive ourselves. Our judgements and choices can be poor. Being an honest person requires of us to question ourselves and to allow ourselves to be questioned by others.

    A great danger for us who are in the Church is to take the marks of the Church – one, true, holy and apostolic – and apply themselves to ourselves and so think ourselves always in the right. Another danger is to live within the power structure of the institution without true self-possession, and to live still as a child when we ought to be grown up.

    I was an obedient child in the Church – recruited at 11 years of age! – until breakdown and then counselling brought me to self-possession. This feast day of Nathaniel calls us to seek to be free of all deceptions and self-deceptions and also to develop a nice line in humour. Can anything good come for Nazareth! You bet.

  2. Brian Fahy

    The ordinary readings today give us the valley of the dry bones brought back to life in the vision of Ezekiel and the gospel statement by Jesus about the two great commandments of life, love of God and neighbour.

    My father preached the gospel to me in the pub one day when he said, Brian, there is nothing like being proper with people. Here was a man whom life had not treated properly – poverty, coal mines, war, ill health – but he held onto the great truths. Only goodness and kindness can ever achieve true life.

    When we are hurt and broken we often rebel and make matters worse. It is our pain screaming out. But in our heart of hearts we know deep down that goodness and love are the only way for dry bones to come alive again.

    It is the rock solid truth of life that you cannot achieve good by doing evil. Resist evil always and as best we can, but never do evil for good to come. It won’t. The commandment teaching to love God with all our heart is true for all people everywhere at all times. When we do not know God that truth translates into wholehearted dedication to goodness and love. Nothing can gainsay this.

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