To celebrate the feast of St. Bartholomew, today’s Gospel is the story of Jesus calling the apostle Nathaniel, assumed by scholars to be another name given to Bartholomew. Our readings today provide an opportunity for us to reflect on our professed faith as being ‘apostolic’.
Our apostolic faith is central to what we believe and profess in our creeds. The first reading of today, in the book of Revelation, is an attempt to envision symbolically the importance of the apostolic foundations of our church and its relationship with the God of Israel. The image depicted gives us the foundation of the holy city as set on stones with the inscriptions of the names of the twelve apostles. Our faith that began with Jesus through the apostles is carried on in the present and into the future of this “end-of-times” vision in Revelation.
Sometimes we hear the stories of the apostles and the early believers and are faced with the temptation to think that faith would have historically been easier knowing “the real Jesus” compared to the one passed down to us through generations of tradition. But today we read one of several accounts of Jesus teaching that seeing is not necessarily believing.
Nathaniel (Bartholomew) is somewhat cynical in asking, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” As he is invited to see for himself, Jesus exhibits a sort of supernatural foreknowledge of Nathaniel in stating that he saw him under the fig tree. Convinced that something good can actually come from Nazareth (the Son of God!), Nathaniel makes a profession of faith. But seeing Jesus wasn’t enough – it took a sign, a miracle, a bit of awe on Jesus’ part to bring this disciple to follow him. As we explore the rest of John’s Gospel during our Sunday liturgies, we will see that Jesus continues to perform signs and miracles to bring people to faith, but it isn’t until his last days and his glorious resurrection that the first disciples and apostles truly realize Jesus’ identity.
The same act of faith that it takes for you and me to believe in Jesus and his church was necessary for those that had personal relationships with the historical Jesus. Today we encounter Christ, among other places, in the faithful members of the church, in the Scriptures, and in the Eucharist – all thing that can both nurture and help lead us to faith. Yet these everyday signs and aspects of our faith are not enough in themselves. We must embrace these things to gain a deeper understanding of what God is doing (and has done) in and through these means of grace.
Our apostolic profession does not mean that our church looks the same as it did for the apostles 2,000 years ago; but rather it means that our faith which we have today is passed down through generation upon generation of believers who have taken the step of faith in believing not simply in miracles, signs, and wonders, but in the person of Christ still alive in his people today.
As a way of concluding our reflection on these passages from John, we recall the intent and purpose of this Gospel writer’s efforts: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).” Without the faith of Bartholomew, the other apostles, and early disciples we would not have the Scriptures or our tradition through which we encounter Christ today. In cooperation with the Spirit, it is up to us now – as modern day apostles/disciples – to ensure that current and future generations may have faith that truly something good can come from Nazareth. It is this connection with our past, present, and future that makes our faith apostolic.
- Tyler Wessman served in Honduras as a Passionist Volunteer from 2007-2008. He recently earned his Master of Divinity from Boston College and currently teaches theology at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, MA.