If the Church were to have a patron saint for the cynical, St. Bartholomew just might qualify. Matthew, Mark, and Luke call him Bartholomew; John calls him Nathanael. We can call him cynical, for it was he who asked: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Yet the question and the cynicism behind it aren’t nearly as important as the answer, which touched Nathanael deeply and goes right to the heart what it means to evangelize.
It looks like the first to answer his question was Philip, who invited Nathanael to meet Jesus, saying simply, “Come and see.” Inviting people to meet Jesus is an important step in evangelization. Years ago, Pope Paul VI taught us that it the mission of the entire Church to evangelize; that the full meaning of life in Christ is only found in becoming a witness for Christ by what we say and do. Those who make their entire life a witness radiate the self-giving love of Christ and tend to attract other people, for they make them feel special, appreciated, and valued.
As important as the invitation is, deeper study of this scene in John’s gospel makes it clear that the first to answer Nathanael’s question was really Jesus himself. Note that Jesus said to him: Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree. While no one knows exactly what happened under that tree, Nathanael’s reply, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel, betrays a mystical encounter so profound, so compelling, that it forever changed Nathanael’s life and the lives of all those he would touch.
Thus, the encounter with Christ is the key to evangelization. As Cardinal Francis George once said, evangelization consists of introducing people to Christ and allowing him to take over from there. No matter how eloquent, forceful or dramatic we are, the human word pales in comparison with the Eternal Word. Like Nathanael, every person has their own “fig tree” moments; at one time or another, everyone quietly contemplates the eternal, the divine, the transcendent. This is a mystical silence into which we dare not intrude; it is the stillness in which God speaks. The God who sees what we cannot – the heart and soul – speaks to whole person as we cannot. Again like Nathanael, the effect is all-encompassing and all-surpassing.
As Christ went on to say, Nathanael would see much greater things, but he had already seen all he needed to see. Thanks to the invitation by Philip and his personal encounter with Jesus, the Apostle literally poured out his life evangelizing others.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? Thanks to St. Bartholomew and all the Apostles, we who were invited and have been touched by Christ no longer need to come and see. At every Eucharist we can now taste and see the goodness of the Nazarene who hung the word Good on Friday. All that remains is that we, like all the saints, use the grace of Communion with Christ to make our lives an open invitation, that everyone may come and see Christ and taste his goodness for themselves.
St. Bartholomew, pray for us.