Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, apostle

(Revelation 21:9b-14; John 1:45-51)

How can it be that on the Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle, we hear a gospel story about Nathanael? But it is not an oversight. On the lists of apostles in the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the name Bartholomew always appears paired with Philip. In John’s gospel, which makes no mention of Bartholomew, there is a story about Nathanael who is a friend of Philip. It is likely, therefore, that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person. Also, Bartholomew appears to be a surname since bar in Hebrew means son of. This fact makes some conclude that the celebration today is more properly the “Feast of St. Nathanael Bartholomew”!

As interesting as the apostle’s name may be, we commemorate him today for something more. He proclaims Jesus “the Son of God and King of Israel.” At the end of John’s gospel Thomas calls Jesus “my Lord and my God.” But he will have the advantage of seeing him after the resurrection. Nathanael’s insight into Jesus’ identity comes from his being, as Jesus says, “a true child of Israel.” This means that he has faithfully waited for the Lord to send his servant for the redemption of His people.

As St. Nathaniel Bartholomew and all true Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah, so we and all true Christians wait for him to return. After two millennia we would feel frustrated if there were no evidence that he is close at hand. But such testimony is available. Jesus is present to us in the Eucharist from which we draw spiritual nourishment and moral guidance. Nevertheless, we yearn for him to reappear in human form so that he might tell us secrets about ourselves as he does about Nathanael in the gospel today.