This came to my mind when I read the first reading of today from the Book of Revelation. The heavenly Jerusalem is described in all its beauty and splendor with gates at all sides welcoming people from everywhere. The earthly Jerusalem, the Church, should resemble this heavenly Jerusalem, but often is only a faint representation of this ideal image of the Church because of the shortcomings of its members and leadership.
In today’s Gospel, Nathaniel – also known as Bartholomew the Apostle, whose feast we celebrate today – is presented to us as someone who is quite prejudiced. He could not believe that Jesus is the promised liberator and savior because he comes from Nazareth, a small and insignificant town. At the same time he is a good man who genuinely seeks to understand the truth. Jesus recognizes him as such and calls him a “true child of Israel.” Jesus makes a cryptic reference to having seen him under the fig tree. In ancient Israel, people congregated in the shadow of the fig tree to discuss important matters of life and faith. In other words, having seen Nathaniel under the fig tree means that Jesus recognizes him as someone who honestly seeks the truth.
Nathaniel has shortcomings and at the same time he is also genuinely trying to live his faith. In that he is like all of us. We have shortcomings and do many things that contradict our faith. At the same time we also seek to understand our faith, want to be active parts of our faith community, and strive to live our faith through prayer and social engagement.
There is an expression in German, that can be translated saying that the Church is both “saint and sinner.” The literal translation is a bit more drastic that may not be suitable for this reflection.
This give me hope that we as Church, the earthly Jerusalem, despite our mediocrity and sinfulness, can become more and more a true reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem through our faith and our faith expressions as individuals and a community. The faith of each one of us and its varied expressions will increase the beauty and splendor of our church!
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