What is the basis for the Christian life? The theme of St. Bartholomew’s feast day gives us two insights into the question. Christian life is based in the bride of Christ, the Church. It is also based in a union of Christ and his followers. Discipleship is both tangible (based in a fellowship of believers) and mystical (rooted in divine encounter).
First Reading: Revelations 21:9b-14
An angel 9b said to me, “Come. I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 (The angel) carried me in the Spirit to (the top of) a large, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down (out of) heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, her light (was) like a most precious stone, jasper, crystal- sparkling. 12 Having large, high walls, having twelve gates, and, on the gates, having twelve angels and the names having been inscribed, which are the names of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 On the east (wall), three gates; on the north (wall), three gates, on the west (wall), three gates; on south (wall), three gates. 14 The wall of the city having twelve foundation (stones) and on them the twelve names of the Apostles of the LAMB.
21:12-14 There are twelve foundation stones described in 21:19-20. Each of the foundation stones supports one of the twelve gates. Hence, these stones form the foundation of the city’s walls, three stones for each wall.
21:12-13 The twelve gates, three per wall, was a direct reference to Ezekiel 48:30-34: “These shall be the exits of the city: On the north side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits by measure, three gates, the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, and the gate of Levi, the gates of the city being named after the tribes of Israel. On the east side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits, three gates, the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, and the gate of Dan. On the south side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits by measure, three gates, the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, and the gate of Zebulun. On the west side, which is to be four thousand five hundred cubits, three gates, the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, and the gate of Naphtali. The circumference of the city shall be eighteen thousand cubits. And the name of the city henceforth shall be, The Lord is there.”
These verses presented a shortened version of John’s take on the new Jerusalem. John the Elder took Ezekiel 40:1-47:12 for his primary inspiration. The Ezekiel text described a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem with its perfectly symmetrical Temple. John echoed this notion in measurement of the city (see 21:15-17). John’s use of the number “twelve” reinforced this notion, for the number indicates fulness, completion. The dimensions of the city and the life giving water that flowed from the city’s center (the Temple in Ezekiel, the throne of God and the Lamb in Revelation–see 22:1-2) focused on this sense of perfection.
The difference between Ezekiel and John the Elder lay in the place of God’s glory. Ezekiel saw the Temple as the source. But John saw the city itself as the source, for the city was now God’s Temple. In John’s view, the presence of God was not confined to the Holy of Holies. Instead, the presence lay among the common people. (See Paul’s comments on the community as the Temple of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 6:19.)
Clearly, the heavenly Jerusalem was the Church. The Church was built on the Apostles (the twelve foundation stones) and continued the faith of God’s people (the twelve gates inscribed with the tribes of Israel). Like the open city in 21:25, the Church would welcome all peoples into its ranks. The invitation to enter and the reason to remain would be the presence of God himself.Top of the page
Gospel: John 1:45-51
45 Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found the (ONE about) whom Moses and the prophets wrote, JESUS, SON of Joseph, the (ONE) from Nazareth.” 46 Nathaniel said to him, “What good is able to come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 JESUS saw Nathaniel coming toward HIM, and said about him, “Look! (This is) truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 Nathaniel said to HIM, “How do you know me?” JESUS answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw sitting under a fig tree.” 49 Nathaniel answered HIM, “RABBI, YOU are the SON OF GOD, YOU are the KING OF ISRAEL.” 50 JESUS answered and said to him, “(Just) because I said to you that I saw you underneath a fig tree, (you) believe? Greater than these (things) you will see.” 51 (HE) said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, that you will see heaven opened, and ascending and descending upon the SON OF MAN.”
1:45 “Nathaniel” means “God has given.” Some traditions connect Nathaniel with Bartholomew, but other traditions dispute the connection.
“...Moses and the prophets wrote...” “Moses and the prophets” was a catch phrase for the Tanack, the Jewish Scriptures.
1:46 “good” is a question of utility, not morality or class distinction. In this case, the question can be translated: “Can anything beneficial come from Nazareth?” This could be Galilean proverb about Nazareth.
“Jesus, son of Joseph, the one from Nazareth” In John’s gospel, Philip identified Jesus by his formal name. In Hebrew, Jesus would be known as “Yeshua ben (or ‘bar’) Joseph.” The Jewish tradition of last name after one’s father is reflected in the Scandianian tradition (Johnson = “son of John”). Since Jesus was a popular name, the addition of one’s place of origin clarified identity. Hence, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
1:46 “Come and see.” Philip’s invitation paralleled that of Jesus to Andrew and his companion in John 1:39.
1:47 “Look! (This is) truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” There are several problems with this sentence. First, is the adverb “truly” meant to be emphatic (to match the imperative “Look!”) or can it be used as an adjective (“Here is a true or genuine or real Israelite”)? Second, does Jesus in John’s gospel use the term “Israelite” in opposition to the “Jews” (i.e., term for the Jewish leadership in John)? Third, is the moral attribute of honesty (“...in whom there is no deceit”) opposed to the devious nature of the Jewish leadership (the "Jews”), a genuine compliment for Nathaniel, or in reference to Jacob, who was deceitful in Genesis 28:12, yet was the first to be called “Israel?” Despite the questions, Jesus gave Nathaniel a high compliment.
1:48 “How do you know me?” is literally “From where do you know me?” This latter statement is a Hebraism. Nathaniel (and the context of 1:47) asked about Jesus’ assumption concerning his character, not about a prior meeting or knowledge of Nathaniel’s origins.
“Before Philip called you, I saw sitting under a fig tree.” Two points about this statement. First, “sitting under a fig tree” is literally “being under a fig tree.” The shade aspect of the tree was far more important than the fruit it bore. Second, there is no real consensus among scholars about the symbolism of the fig tree. More important than the symbolism of the fruit tree was the foreknowledge of Jesus. This indicated his divinity, and was the reason for Nathaniel’s statement of faith in 1:49.
“...you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel...” Both “Son of God” and “King of Israel” are Messianic titles. Psalm 2:6-7:
“Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion.” I will tell of the decree. YHWH said to me, “You are my son. Today I have become your father. (World English Bible)
This statement displayed the faith in Jesus as the Messiah in two different, interlocking ways.
1:51 “Amen, amen, I say to you...” Only St. John expressed the term “Amen,” as a doublet some 25 times. This made what followed emphatic.
“you will see heaven opened, and ascending and descending upon the SON OF MAN” The saying of Jesus mixed the content of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12) and Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man figure (Daniel 7:13). Both evoked divine revelation. Angelic messengers come from and return to heaven, just as the Son of Man came from, and would return to, heaven.
John’s gospel has a different vision from the Synoptics in two areas: evangelization and divine encounter. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus chose his followers, but, in John, word-of-mouth brought others to Jesus. The narrative of Nathaniel was a case in point. Philip evangelized Nathaniel, despite his skepticism.
Can anything good come from Nazareth?
Come and see.
When Nathaniel met Jesus, the Lord paid him a high compliment. Nathaniel was a genuine son of Abraham, an honest, even transparent man. “How do you know?” the skeptic replied. Jesus answered with a vision of Nathaniel. In that answer Jesus revealed himself. And Nathaniel responded in faith. Here was the Messiah, the Divine One. Then, Jesus challenged Nathaniel to see something greater; the new disciple would witness revelation, angels would bear communication between the Father and the Son. Seeing this communication, Nathaniel would become part of that heaven and earth give-and-take. The follower would be swept up in this revelation.
For John, evangelization meant more than following the Lord. It meant life in the Lord, live in union with God himself.
Bartholomew (AKA, Nathaniel) was a transparent man in the Scriptures. Besides the exchange in John and his name among the apostles in the Synoptics, little is known of Bartholomew. Maybe that’s what should be. The witness gave way to the Master. Life in the Lord and his community was far more important than a life of fame. Fellowship and mystical union were the true goals of the follower.
How can you improve your fellowship with other Christians? How can you open yourself to an encounter with the Lord?