Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. (St. John i. 47)
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew. St. Bartholomew is mentioned in the Gospelsof Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only as coupled with Philip in the list of the twelve Apostles. He is not mentioned in the Gospel according to St. Johnas Bartholomew, but is there named Nathaniel – this probably being his second name, where he is also found with Philip. And if our Bartholomewis indeed the same man as Nathaniel, then it is from St. John that we learn most about him.
St. John tells us that Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the hometown of Peter and Andrew, was found by Jesus, who said unto him, Follow me. (Ibid, 43) Next we read thatPhilip findeth Nathaniel, and saith unto him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Philip claims that he has found the Messiah, prophesied by the Jewish Moses and the Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, but that he isthe son of Joseph. If Saint Bartholomew is Nathaniel, we can infer that with Philip he too was from Bethsaida of Galilee.But as a devout Jew, Nathaniel Bartholomew would have known from the Prophet Micah that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. (Micah v. 2) That the Christ should come from Nazareth of Galilee would have struck him as unlikely. Furthermore, because the Galilee of his own day was so notorious for its evil and unrighteous ways, Nathaniel Bartholomew would have doubted that Nazareth should have sired the promised Saviour. Galilee, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, had by this time been thoroughly Hellenized or acclimated to the ways of the Greeks. We know this from the fact that two of these first Apostles bore Greek names: Philip and Andrew. Bartholomew, then, would have had sufficient reason to doubt that Philip had found the Messiah. Thus he is cautious in the face of a seemingly unfulfilled historical prophecy, and is equally guarded against the strangeness of Messiah’s dwelling place. So Nathaniel Bartholomew’s asks Philip,Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? (St. John i. 45, 46)His question seems fair enough. He hesitates in face of his friend’s euphoric optimism. Prior to the calling of Philip, Jesus had asked Andrew and his companion, What seek ye? (St. John i. 38) Their answer was strange. They said, Where are you abiding? (Idem) Jesus said, Come and see. (Ibid, 39) Jesus intends for Philip and Bartholomew to do the same.
Before this, we read of Philip’s response to Nathaniel Bartholomew’s suspicious question. He doesn’t provide his own answer but repeats Jesus’ answer to the other disciples’ question about where He was abiding. So he says to Nathaniel Bartholomew,Come and see. (Ibid, 46) Philip appears to be mesmerized by Jesus’ words, Come and see. The mystical Personality of Jesus was enough to arrest and consume Philip. Perplexities might still remain, but Philip would be content to adjourn them to a later day, which faith must always do! (Studies in the Gospels: R.C. Trench, p. 73)
But Philip’s faith seems sufficiently intriguing to stir the guileless curiosity of Nathaniel Bartholomew. He will pursue and test Philip’s Come and see. Next we read that, Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! (Ibid, 47) Jesus appears to know already that Nathaniel Bartholomew is no fool and will not be won over easily. He pays him the highest compliment in calling Bartholomew a true Israelitewithout guile. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that guile is the execution of craftiness or the attempt to deceive using words. (S.T., lv. 4)Nathaniel Bartholomew is one whose words reflect only his honest thoughts. He is conscientious and earnest in his search for the truth. He knows that he does not know Jesus and thus with determined curiosity he will examine Jesus and His words. Nathaniel saith unto Jesus, Whence knowest thou me? (Ibid, 48) He provokes Jesus to answer his inquisition.How is it that you know me? Prove it. Jesus still intends that he should Come and see, but since Nathaniel Bartholomew is a man who never attempts to deny or conceal the truth of his own ignorance, Jesus will provide him with the facts that the guileless man is after. Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called…when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. (Ibid, 48) We have no knowledge of what Nathaniel was doing under the fig tree. Most commentators tells us that Nathaniel was more likely than not fighting to overcome some great temptation, struggling earnestly with some pestiferous demon, or longing passionately to be healed by God’s merciful kindness. But suffice it to say, that Nathaniel now understood that Jesus knew full well just what he was doing, that Philip had called him forth from it, and that He had heard even Nathaniel’s skeptical response. (Trench, p. 76)So Nathaniel Bartholomew comes to see that Jesus knew where he wasandwhat was in him. (St. John ii. 25)Nathaniel answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. (Ibid, 49)
The kind of virtue that we find in Nathaniel Bartholomew is uncommon indeed. When Jesus compliments him for being without guile, we happen upon a rare instance of Jesus’ recognition of a virtue that most men lack. Yet, this virtue that we find in Nathaniel is so essential to the Christian pilgrim in so many ways. First, we find in him that earnest disposition that seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Second, because he is moved by candid self-honesty in relation to God, he is emptied of any pretension, deceit, cunning, hypocrisy, and fraud. Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful. (Ps. i. 1) Because his sins so need God’s forgiveness, this man without guile does not frequent the haunts of sinners. He is conscious enough of his own weaknesses not to tempt or provoke God to wrath. Third, this man without guile seeks to delight in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law will he exercise himself day and night. (Ibid, 2) The man without guile does not deceive himself nor does he deceive his neighbor, for the chief care and concern in life is to fear the Lord, obey His Law, and do His will. A guileless nature is…the kindly soil in which all excellent graces will flourish, but does not do away with the necessity of the divine seed, out of which alone they can spring. (Trench, p. 74)
Today we learn some basic lessons about Christian spiritual life from the Apostle Nathaniel Bartholomew. Guile or craftiness is a tricky and deceptive vice indeed, full of all hypocrisy and fraud. Through it men deceive others and lure them into the webs of their own devices, desires, and designs. It is a form of control that through falsehood and wrong attempts to manipulate the truth to serve selfish ends. We might find it expressed most notoriously in the life of Judas Iscariot. There we see that because Jesus did not end up fulfilling his earthly expectations, Judas would betray his Master. But it is found subtly also when any one of us attempts to manipulate others to serve our own selfish passions. Through it we threaten or intimidate our fellows when we claim a majority support for our minority opinion. Through guile or craftiness welie and falsify, conceal and hide, and then dismantle and destroy the integrity of other men. Guile even cleverly confesses its sins, draws others into its pretended sorrow, and enlists sympathy for persistent self-pity and unrestrained self-indulgent wallowing. Guile pretends to love another person whilst all the while indulging its own purely selfish narcissism. Guile pretends to love God but loves only its own sorry self.A lying tongue hateth those that areafflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin. (Prov. xxvi. 28)
In Nathaniel Bartholomew, Jesus finds no traces of this crafty deceit and shameless guile. If Nathaniel Bartholomew has a fault, it might be that he desires too much knowledge where faith alone is needed. At the close of their first meeting Jesus says to his new friend: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these….Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (Ibid, 50, 51) In other words, Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (St. John xx. 29) This vision is reserved for those who without guile move beyond human knowledge to faith that gives birth to salvation. In answer to, Rabbi where dwellest Thou? (Ibid, 38) Jesus says, Come and see. (Ibid, 39)
With what we know of St. Nathaniel Bartholomew, we can surmise and conclude that whereJesus was therehe was also. In the end, where he was always, was in that spiritual place that could declare with St. Paul, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. (Gal. ii. 20) He and the Apostles who learned to live without guilewerescattered about the world shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, keeping themselves unspotted from the world, where Jesus was conquering men’s hearts with His love and affection. So, in the end, they lived by Christ’s vision of them because they were better pleased to do their duty than to hear about it, not seeking glory from men but the honor that comes from God alone, counting themselves worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. (Ibid, 161)They were determined to dwell in that place where Christ was –wherea man never deceives himself or others. They were foreverwherethe penetrating light of Christ’s knowledge shows a man where he isand then gives him the vision of who he can become.
Can any good thing come out of Nazareth, Nathaniel asks?Jesus says, Come and see. If we do, with Nathaniel we shall believe the Word of God made flesh, hear Him, receive Him, and be so transformed by Him that we shall carry that Good thing that has come out of Nazareth from our hearts out and into the world.