But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see” (Jn 1:46).
Many biblical scholars believe that Nathanael is the same man as the Apostle Bartholomew, who is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. We see in today’s Gospel from John that his initial reaction to Philip’s invitation is doubt. Why? Because of where he came from. Nazareth was a small peasant village with a population of about 1,600 people (Meier, 317). I don’t think its small size would be the main reason for Nathanael’s offering a bit of humor at the expense of Jesus’ hometown, though he must have had some reason to believe that nothing good could come from Nazareth. The more important point is that Nathanael did not allow his preconceived opinions of Nazareth to keep him from following Philip’s invitation to “Come and see.”
Nathanael would not only “come and see”, but after Jesus shared how he first saw Nathanael under the fig tree, Nathanael claimed that Jesus was “the Son of God… the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49). What he was able to see in Jesus, Jesus’ own townsfolk of Nazareth were not able or willing to see. Though, like the other Apostles, Nathanael was off the mark regarding the kind of messiah Jesus would be. Jesus would not be the warrior king, but the suffering servant of Isaiah. Jesus also told Nathanael that he would “see greater things than this” (Jn 1:50). Francis Moloney articulates that: “Faith based on miracles will not suffice; something more is needed. This greater faith will enable all disciples to see the revelation of the heavenly in Jesus, the Son of Man” (Harrington, 57).
Though we do not know much about Nathanael other than the encounter described in today’s gospel, we know that he was willing to set aside his initial doubt and prejudice of Jesus’ hometown, was willing to encounter, follow, and remain with Jesus to become one of the Twelve. There is speculation that he traveled to India to spread the Gospel he received. Most likely he encountered those who had the same doubt that anything good could come from the One from Nazareth. There would be those who refused to believe and so he was killed. Yet, before and after his martyrdom, some, though initially doubtful, some like Nathanael, came and saw and believed.
St Bartholomew, son of Tholami; Nathanael, gift of God, pray for us that we may resist the temptations of our own biases, doubts, and prejudices, so to open our hearts and minds to “come and see” Jesus in those we meet today, especially in the distressing disguise of the poor. Help us not only to resist judging others because of where they come from but instead grow in our faith so that we come to see in each encounter a person, a child of God, a brother or a sister along the way.
Painting: The Apostle Bartholomew by Rembrandt, 1657
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew, vol. 1 : The Roots of the Problem and the Person. New York: Yale University Press, 1991.
Moloney, S.D.B., Francis J. “The Gospel of John, vol.4.” In Sacra Pagina, edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998.