BARTHOLOMEW, THE APOSTLE (Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ )

We get the name Bartholomew in the lists of the 12 Apostles given by the three synoptic evangelists: Mathew, Mark and Luke. Bartholomew means simply son of Tolmai or Talmai.

Bartholomew must have had a genuine personal name. Biblical scholars identify Bartholomew as Nathanael. Nathanael is mentioned as his personal name only in the Gospel according John. The synoptic Gospels mention Bartholomews name always together with Philip. In Johns Gospel Nathanael is brought to Jesus by Philip.

After his baptism at Jordan Valley by John the Baptist, Jesus was on his way back to Galilee. At Cana Jesus first called Philip to follow him. Then, Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus. John narrates the call very graphically. The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him,Come with me! (Philip was from Bethsaida, the town where Andrew and Peter lived). Philip found Nathanael and told him,We have found the one whom Moses wrote about in the book of the Law and whom the prophets also wrote about. He is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.

Can anything good come form Nazareth? Nathanael asked.

Come and see, answered Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said about him,Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!

Nathanael asked him,How do you know me?

Jesus answered,I saw you when you were under the fig-tree before Philip called you.

Teacher, answered Nathanael,you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

Jesus said,Do you believe just because I told you I saw you when you were under the fig-tree? You will see much greater things than this! And he said to them,I am telling you the truth: you will see heaven open and Gods angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man(Jn 1, 43-51)

Nathanael must have been reading the Scripture (the Old Testament) as a pious orthodox Jew by sitting in the shade of a fig-tree. He must have been reflecting on the Scripture, which he read, and praying. He could have been reflecting about the coming of the promised and long- expected Messiah when Philip took him to Jesus. Hence his exclamation on meeting Jesus, Teacher, you are Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

Nathanaels final appearance in John is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with other six disciples. One day after the Resurrection of Jesus, Peter led them there for fishing. John narrates the scene very vividly.

After this, Jesus appeared once more to his disciples at Lake Tiberias. This is how it happened. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael (the one from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of Jesus were all together. Simon Peter said to the others,I am going fishing.

We will come with you, they told him. So they went out in a boat, but all that night they did not catch a thing. As the sun was rising, Jesus stood at the waters edge, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then he asked them,Young men, havent you caught anything?

Not a thing they answered.

He said to them,Throw your net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some. So they threw the net out and could not pull it back in, because they had caught so many fish.

The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter,It is the Lord! When Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken his clothes off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples came to shore in the boat, pulling the net full of fish. They were not very far from land, about a hundred metres away. When they stepped ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it and some bread. Then Jesus said to them,Bring some of fish you have just caught.

Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear. Jesus said to them,Come and eat. None of the disciples dared ask him,Who are you? because they knew it was the Lord. So Jesus went over, took the bread, and gave it to them; he did the same with the fish(Jn 21, 1-13)

Bartholomews name is also mentioned among the list of eleven disciples in the Acts after the resurrection of Jesus.

They entered the city and went up to the room where they were staying: Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas son of James(Acts 1, 13-14)

The Gospels do not say anything about the life and mission of Bartholomew. But early church history and traditions have something to say. Ronald Brownrigg in his book Whos Who the New Testament writes, Eusebius, the early 4th century historian and bishop of Caesarea, records that an Alexandrian traveler in India discovered a Gospel of Matthew, written in Hebrew and left behind byBartholomew, one of the apostles. According to tradition, Bartholomew was flayed alive in Armenia. He is often represented in art with his skin over his arm and the knife in his hand

We have amble knowledge of Nathanael in Jesus identifying him as a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him(Jn 1, 47)

Nathanael could meet Jesus because his friend Philip took him and he listened and responded well to Jesus. How do we encounter and respond to Jesus and his Gospel message today?

 

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