Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

Jesus said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael [=Bartholomew] answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (Jn 1:48-9)

Many of the Old Testament prophets use the fig tree as a symbol of the Covenant. If it's barren, the fig tree can mean that the People of God are not living up to the Covenant, as for example in Jeremiah 8: "How will you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us?' In vain have the scribes used a false pen. The wise men are ashamed, and alarmed, and taken, because they have rejected the word of the Lord. What wisdom is there in them? ...There are no grapes on the vines, and no figs on the fig trees, and the leaves have fallen off."

But if the fig tree is flourishing, it can mean that the fullness of God's grace abounds, as for example in Micah 4: "And at the last days, the mountain of the Lord shall be manifest, and established above the mountains and exalted above the hills... for out of Zion shall go forth a law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many peoples, and shall rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles... And everyone shall rest under his vine, and everyone under his fig tree, and there shall be none to alarm them, for the mouth of the Lord Almighty has spoken these words."

Philip and Bartholomew are looking and longing for the Messiah, "him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote" (Jn 1:"45). His heart is "without guile" (1:47), and therefore is open to God satisfying his desire. Philip, who has witnessed John the Baptist baptize Jesus, tells Bartholomew to "Come and see" (1:46) the one who fulfills these prophecies. So when Jesus tells Bartholomew, "I saw you under the fig tree," the prophets' use of the fig tree leaps to mind. Bartholomew recognizes that this man, who knows his mind and heart so intimately and immediately, is from God, and is God - the Son of God and King of Israel, the "word of the Lord from Jerusalem" of whom Micah spoke.

Bartholomew believes because Jesus identifies Himself to him in this very intimate and personal way. Because he believes, he sacrifices all to follow Him. He becomes one of the Twelve, and eventually a great preacher and martyr who established the Church in India.

Jesus identifies Himself to us with the same immediate, intimate, and personal love. In baptism, and confession, and Eucharist, He calls us to follow Him. How do we let Jesus see us? Are our hearts "without guile" for Him? Do we rest under the fig tree - seeking union with Him in Scripture, and in the sacraments, and in prayer? Do we hold firmly to our hope and faith in His victory over sin and death? Do we recognize Him? Are we ready to hear and respond?

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