The Dispatch: More from CWR...

St. Bartholomew: From despair to discipleship and a heavenly destiny

We must always approach Christ with “no duplicity” in us, as did Nathanael, ready to receive God’s self-revelation in Christ and to proclaim Him as Lord. 

Detail from "Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew" (17th century painting, after Jusepe de Ribera. commons.wikimedia.org)

As it often does with the events of the Gospels, the streaming series The Chosen adds to the drama of the encounter between Jesus and Nathanael in John 1:45-51 by employing a bit of artistic license and supplying a background story.

In the second episode of Season Two, we see Nathanael, in the time before he met Jesus, thrown into an existential crisis. The roof of a building for which he had been the architect has collapsed and his ambitions have come to ruin. Nathanael, utterly distraught, goes out into the wilderness and sits under a fig tree, where he burns the plans for a synagogue he had dreamed of building and begins to cry out in prayer.

Nathanael’s prayer largely consists of an impassioned recitation of Psalm 102, which begins:

Lord, here my prayer;
let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress.

At which point Nathanael breaks away from the sacred text and cries out with anguish, “Do you see me?”

This backstory vitalizes the moment later in the episode when Jesus says to Nathanael, “I saw you under the fig tree.” The Lord had not turned His face. He did see his grief-stricken son and loved him.

And now the Lord was calling Nathanael to be his disciple and apostle. A poignant resolution to a man’s soul-wrenching crisis. 

But we know the story does not end there. To become an apostle brings problems of its own. Just look at almost any painting of St. Bartholomew—we have one in Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where I serve—and you will see the saint either being martyred by flaying or holding his flayed skin, as he does in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

Worldly minds, beholding the horror of such paintings, might be tempted to think that being sad under a fig tree wasn’t so bad after all. If following and proclaiming Jesus brought him to such an end, then maybe Nathanael was better off before he met Jesus?

Of course, believers know the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” First, Nathanael was not just sad without Jesus. He was lost. He was alone. He had no hope and no future except death.

Secondly, his martyrdom was not Bartholomew’s end. To borrow from the language of St. Ignatius of Antioch, it was his birth to eternal life. “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus says much later in John’s Gospel (16:33). “But take courage, I have conquered the world.”

In heeding Philip’s call to “come and see” Jesus, in proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel, in following Jesus even to the sacrifice of his life, Bartholomew received a new identity, fulfilled a new mission, and realized a new destiny, all given by Christ.

The First Reading for the Feast of St. Bartholomew (Revelation 21:9b-14) gives a picture of the Heavenly Jerusalem, which “gleamed with the splendor of God,” and in the foundation of which were inscribed the names of the twelve apostles. This is the destiny that shaped Nathanael’s life, strengthened him in his witness to Christ, and awaited him on the other side of that death which was his ultimate act of witness.

From the time he met Christ, Bartholomew was never lost. He was never alone. He never lacked an identity, mission, or destiny in Christ.

As Catholics living through an especially dark and tumultuous time in the world, and even in the Church, we need both to receive and to share this Good News. No matter how far we have advanced in wisdom, in the spiritual life, in responding to the universal call to holiness, we always need to receive the Gospel afresh. 

Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our King. He has saved us from our alienation from God. He is saving us now, through the mysteries of His life, death, and Resurrection and the sacraments of His Church. And, to use the word in a different way, He is saving for us riches beyond our imagining in His Father’s household. 

We must always approach Christ with “no duplicity” in us, as did Nathanael, ready to receive God’s self-revelation in Christ and to proclaim Him as Lord. 

Empty of duplicity and full of faith, we will be credible and effective witnesses to Christ and help others to turn away from the problems we know so well today:

  • Saturation in and addiction to the digital world;
  • Lust and its deadly progeny, such as abortion and human trafficking;
  • Cynicism and even despair at the evils of the world;
  • The “Dictatorship of Relativism” and the disintegration of authentic discussion and debate in pursuit of the truth;
  • Constant noise, distracting us from God;
  • The futile attempt to live a double life, to “serve two masters”;
  • Isolation so complete that we do not even want to accept pizza deliveries in person anymore;
  • False and manipulative speech;
  • Increasing anxiety, depression, and suicide;
  • Apathy towards God, towards other people, and even towards oneself.

Do you want to flee from these poisons and find new life? Do you want to help others to do the same? “Come and see” Who Jesus is and what He has in store for you and for all who believe in Him, follow Him, and proclaim Him.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Fr. Charles Fox 81 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.

4 Comments

  1. This seems extra-biblical: (And now the Lord was calling Nathanael to be his disciple and apostle.) A poignant resolution to a man’s soul-wrenching crisis.

    The Scripture seems just the opposite to soul-wrenching…Bartholomew-Nathaniel under the fig had a prior interior revelation of the Messiah, that would lead to and unfold ‘in the seeing the angels ascend and descend on Him when the Messiah’ opens the Way to Eternal Life, perhaps from the Fig Tree of Calvary that would never wither and be unfruitful…perhaps, thus Bartholomew like Peter is blessed, ‘for man did not reveal this to you under the fig tree, but the Heavenly Father’….blessings and mercies

    Blessings…

  2. Graces and greetings in the Lord!!

    This seems extra-biblical: (And now the Lord was calling Nathanael to be his disciple and apostle.) A poignant resolution to a man’s soul-wrenching crisis.

    The Scripture seems just the opposite to soul-wrenching…Bartholomew-Nathaniel under the fig had a prior interior revelation of the Messiah, that would lead to and unfold ‘in the seeing the angels ascend and descend on Him when the Messiah’ opens the Way to Eternal Life, perhaps from the Fig Tree of Calvary that would never wither and be unfruitful…perhaps, thus Bartholomew like Peter is blessed, ‘for man did not reveal this to you under the fig tree, but the Heavenly Father’….blessings and mercies

    Blessings…

  3. Graces and greetings in the Lord!!

    This seems more than extra-biblical: And now the Lord was calling Nathanael to be his disciple and apostle. A poignant resolution to a man’s soul-wrenching crisis.

    The Scripture seems just the opposite to soul-wrenching…Bartholomew-Nathaniel under the fig had a prior interior revelation of the Messiah, that would lead to and unfold ‘in the seeing the angels ascend and descend on Him when the Messiah’ opens the Way to Eternal Life, perhaps from the Fig Tree of Calvary that would never wither and be unfruitful…perhaps, thus Bartholomew, because without guile or duplicity, like Peter is blessed, ‘for man did not reveal this to you under the fig tree, but the Heavenly Father’….blessings and mercies

    Blessings…

  4. Amen, Father.

    Glad you mentioned “The Chosen.” I have avoided references to that series on social media, because I couldn’t bear the fault-finding and unhealthy criticism I would find about it. I have found the series often very moving, VERY moving, and overall having a very vital effect on my faith.

    So much so that I fear being disappointed every time I watch an episode. I do pray that the stewards of that project will grow in faithfulness.

    I know that’s not your point. As a poorly catechised (my own fault) revert, St. Bartholomew’s feast day caught me by surprise, and has really touched me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*