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Nathanael: A Gift of God

by Joel V. Ocampo


On August 24, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ. In the Synoptic Gospels, St. Bartholomew is always listed in the sixth position, preceding Philip (Mk. 3:18; Mt. 10:3; Lk. 6:14) who introduced him to Jesus (Jn. 1:45-46). Many Bible scholars believe that St. Bartholomew is the same “Nathanael” mentioned in the Gospel written by St. John, since the name “Bartholomew” is not a proper noun but an alias that mean “Son of Talmai.”


Among the Twelve, St. Bartholomew was the first to confess that Jesus is “the Son of God, the King of Israel” (John 1:49). After the story of the call of the first disciples in John 1:35-51, we will hear again of Nathanael only after the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the seven disciples at the lake of Tiberias (Jn. 21:2).


The name “Nathanael” (Greek: Ναθαναὴλ) came from the Hebrew name נְתַנְאֵל (Netan'el) meaning “God has given” or “Gift of God.” From the little information we have in the Scriptures, we can learn three things from Nathanael, a.k.a. St. Bartholomew on how to become a gift of God:

  1. be truthful,

  2. see the goodness in others, and

  3. accompany the downcast.


BE TRUTHFUL.

According to the Bible, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.’” (Jn. 1:47). The Greek word used for duplicity was “δόλος” (dólos) that can mean guile, trickery, or deceit. In Filipino language, we have the term “pagkukunwari.” In addition, the figure of speech “pagbabalat-kayo” is also used to describe deceit.


In many statues of St. Bartholomew, he was portrayed as a man that tramples upon a devil, just like the statue located in Apostol San Bartolome de Malabon. In John 8:44, Jesus said that the devil “does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” Now, if Nathanael was described by Jesus as “a man with no duplicity,” then we can say that he was able to defeat the tactics of the devil by becoming truthful: a man with no deceit.


We too, can become gifts of God when we become truthful; when we do not entertain gossips and false accusations that comes from the evil one. We can become gifts of God when we do not spread fake news, when we “do not go about spreading slander” (Lev. 19:16); but rather, “speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).


In the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the painting called Last Judgment can be seen. In this painting, St. Bartholomew holds the knife in one hand, and in his other he holds his skin. This tells us more to become truthful, to remove the “old skin” of “pagbabalat-kayo.”



SEE THE GOOD IN OTHERS

When Philip told Nathanael “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth,” Nathanael’s reaction was “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:45-46). Initially, Nathanael saw the negative side of Jesus from Nazareth. However, Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn. 1:47). Here, Jesus saw the good side of Nathanael. Bartholomew or Nathanael, shock of what had happened, received these words from Jesus, “You will see greater things than this” (Jn. 1:50). The Lord is like saying, “See the good in others and not the bad side. Because you cannot put a person inside a box.” True enough, Nathanael saw greater things during the three years with Jesus. Nathanael witness how the Lord saw the good in the sinners and forgave them (Lk. 7:47; 19:10; Mt. 9:9; Mk. 2:5). He witnesses how Jesus turned water into wine (Jn. 2:1-12), multiplied the five loaves and two fishes (Jn. 6:1-15), healed the blind man from birth (Jn. 9:1-7), and many more.


Similarly, like Nathanael who learned to see the goodness in others from Jesus, we can become gifts of God when we do not easily judge others as sinners and bad people. When we try to understand each other, and put ourselves into their shoe.


ACCOMPANY THE DOWNCAST

After the last supper with the Lord, when Jesus was arrested, we were told that “they all left him and fled” (Mk. 14:50). Furthermore, Peter who followed the Lord from a distance even denied Him three times (Mk. 14:66-72). Such was Peter’s guilt that he went back to Galilee and returned to fishing, his former job (Lk. 5:1-11). While Peter was at the Lake of Galilee, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples accompanied him (Jn. 21:1-3). These six disciples, including Nathanael and the beloved disciple who shouted, “Dominus est!” (It is the Lord!) accompanied Peter in his downcast moments.



Like Nathanael, we become gifts of God when we accompany those who are downcast. When we share our time listening to their struggles, when we give them encouragement in times of hopelessness, and when we lead them to the Light in moments of darkness.


Finally, Jesus saw Nathanael “under the fig tree” (Jn. 1:48). According to Bible Scholars, to sit under the fig tree means to study the Scriptures. Like St. Bartholomew, let us always study the Scriptures so that the Word of God will continue to transform us, and make us “gifts of God.”


Let us pray.

O Glorious Saint Bartholomew, Jesus called you a person without guile and you saw in this word a sign that he was the Son of God and King of Israel. Obtain for us the grace to be ever guileless and innocent as doves. At the same time, help us to have your gift of faith to see the Divine hand in the events of daily life. May we discern the signs of the times that lead to Jesus on earth and will eventually unite us to him forever in heaven. Amen.


St. Bartholomew, Apostle of the Lord, pray for us!


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