Human character and human behaviour is a complex entity.
It consists of various traits and characteristics – peculiar and unique to each human person.
These characteristics get associated with a person and becomes an integral part of one’s personality.
Today we celebrate the Feast of a Unique Apostle who stands out with some of his Unassuming yet Powerful character – St Bartholomew.
The Scriptures have very little to speak on St Bartholomew.
The three synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke) lists Bartholomew among the names of the Twelve Apostles.
In all these three, he is linked in the company of Apostle Philip.
However, St John’s Gospel doesn’t mention him.
However, by a reading of St John, it can deciphered that Nathaneal is the name that is associated with Bartholomew.
Therefore, Holy Mother the Church, on the Feast of St Bartholomew presents before us the Gospel Reading which speaks of the encounter of Nathaneal (Bartholomew) with Jesus.( Jn 1: 45-51)
This passage is one of the most interesting “encounter” passages of the Bible.
Philip who had met Jesus, went and told Nathaneal that “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazereth…” (Jn 1: 45)
However, Nathanael bluntly puts forward an obvious question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1: 46)
Here is the first presentation of his character…
>>> A bluntness and boldness in speaking out what he felt.
>>> A prejudice and bias due to knowledge of some known fact
Here are some aspects of his character, with which many of us can also, perhaps associate…
… We too sometimes speak out blunty and openly, being straight-forward, without caring for people’s feelings or the circumstances
… We too sometimes tend to “have a bend” in our opinion and views regarding people or situations and they often create mental blocks in us
However, the meeting with Jesus brought about a massive transformation in Nathaneal.
It was the words of Jesus, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called” (Jn 1: 48) that hit Nathaneal like a lightening!
Perhaps, many of us who have read this passage have also wondered whats so special about this “being under the fig tree”
What’s so unique about it, that on hearing it, Nathanael makes one of the most powerful faith statements in the Gospel of John – “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (Jn 1: 49)
What made Nathaneal to have this life-transforming and character-upgrading effect?
Perhaps, we need to shed some light on this aspect of “I saw you under the fig tree”
The fig tree had become a common place for prayer, especially for young students who were learning to be the Jewish Rabbis.
The book of Zechariah mentions: “In that day, each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 3:10)
The Prophet Micah also used the same image to “describe the state of man after the Kingdom has arrived” (Mic 4:5)
These imageries made many of the Faithful Israelites to sit under the fig tree, as a place of prayer, meditation and hope… hope for the Messiah!
So most probably Nathanel was also under the fig tree “praying”
But what was he probably praying?
A Jewish believer was taught that “he who, when he prays, does not pray for the coming of the Messiah, has not prayed at all!”
The coming of the Messiah was on the lips and minds of every Jew – a great hope of expectation!
Therefore, Nathanael under the fig tree was in all probablity, “praying for the coming of the Messiah!”
Hence, when Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree”, the words caused a deep stirring in the heart of Young Nathaneal!
He would have most probaby considered, “There could be only one person Who knew and could have heard His prayer – the Messiah Himself!
Therefore, with deep joy, contrition and a transformed mind, Nathaneal falls at the One for Whose coming He had been praying under the fig tree – the Messiah and declares, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (Jn 1: 49)
The sceptic was given the illumination to become a saint!
And here is the second presentation of his character…
>> An openness and willingness to bring a change in mindset on realising the facts
>> A humility and generosity to surrender oneself to the power of truth
These then are some aspects of his character, with which many of us need to also, grow in to…
… Prejudices can sometimes plague our life and our activities; but can we dare to be open to the Spirit of God and allow the truth to take greater control of our lives?
… To grow towards changes for the good and to make transformations in life, can be a ego-crushing process; but can we do away with our pride and clothe ourselves in humility to also accept the many unknown realities and truths of life?
The character of St Bartholomew (Nathanael) is a powerful and unique one.
Each of us also have our own personal traits and characteristics.
But this saint of the Day, also makes an invitation and inspires us, to sometimes, allow for changes, be willing for transformations and let in newness to enter in, in areas which concern our Blessed Lord.
May we, challenge ourselves to bring about changes in life, so that the Mighty Power and Grace of the Lord many have complete dominion and control over us..
… and like St Bartholomew, we too may be touched and transformed to cry out, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel, the King of the world and the King of my heart!”
Happy Feast of St Bartholomew!
God Bless! Live Jesus!