Nathanael in the Gospel today is St. Bartholomew. Nathanael
was his first name, Bartholomaios, which means son of Talmai or Tholmai is
his last name. He was friends with Philip and usually mentioned with
Philip. Bartholomew was a very genuine sort, and Jesus seemed to appreciate
that aspect of his personality. Bart was certainly no yes-man.
When Philip brought him into discipleship, Philip said that Jesus was from
Nazareth. Nathanael, rather glibly it seems to me, said that nothing
good came from Nazareth, but Philip told him to come see for himself.
When Jesus saw them coming, he recognized Nathanael’s character. Said to
him, in essence, you’re a real straight- shooter. Apparently he was,
because Bartholomew was impressed at Jesus’ recognition. He said, how
do you know me? Jesus replied that he had seen him under a fig tree
before Philip brought him. That must have also been true, because immediately
Nathanael pledged himself to Jesus.
As skeptical as he was at first, hearing of Jesus’ origin, he was as adamant
afterward, having seen for himself Jesus’ power. He was not duplicitous.
He said what he thought. He did not say one thing when he meant another.
He did not say things just to be polite – even when in polite company!
He may have insulted Jesus, practically to his face, but also when he realized
who Jesus was, he acknowledged his error and changed his ways. He did
not pay any lip service to save himself either. He was eventually martyred,
perhaps for converting the king of Armenia, by being skinned alive.
He is often portrayed carrying his own skin. I’ve always had so much
respect for the martyrs. I don’t think I could do that. I think
I would lie through my teeth and renounce my faith to save my skin.
Nathanael did not. I hope I never have to find out, and I hope I’m
wrong about my weakness, but Nathanael literally lost his skin because he
wouldn’t lie. He told the truth about all he saw and believed, and
converted others to the faith, and it cost him his very life. Jesus
seemed to laugh when Bartholomew acknowledged him so fully at the comment
about the fig tree. He said if he believed because of the fig tree,
how amazed he would be at all the other miracles he would see: “I say to
you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending
on the Son of Man."
On his feast day today, he is a good role model. He was honest and
straightforward. He wouldn’t lie, even out of politeness, or even to
“save his skin.” But he wasn’t so stubborn that he wouldn’t change
his mind when the situation warranted. We should all be as true to
ourselves as Nathanael Bartholomew.