The old saying is true that a little knowledge can go a long way. It’s certainly true of our knowledge about Saint Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel. We may wonder what he had been doing under the fig tree when Our Lord first saw him, and yet our little knowledge tells us it was customary for Jewish scholars to study the scriptures sitting in the shade of a fig tree. Nathaniel may even have been meditating on God’s promises. If so, it was the perfect prelude to meeting the Messiah.
For centuries, God’s promises had sustained Israel with powerful visions of hope for the future. A radiant bride, a city and temple shimmering with the glory of God—these images pointed to a peaceful future when God would live among his people and make them into a light for the other nations. Nathanael must have drawn strength from reflecting on this life to come, even as his nation suffered under Roman occupation. Perhaps this gave him eyes to recognize Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ and ‘King of Israel’ who would set things right.
Like Nathanael, we have wonderful images of the life to come. And we even know that this life has already begun. Baptized into Christ, we have been saved; we are God’s people and citizens of heaven. Saint Catherine of Siena reflected that: “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Just as Nathanael sat under a fig tree contemplating God’s promises, we too can set aside time for quiet, hopeful contemplation. We can try to imagine what heaven will be like. We can even think about those who have gone before us and imagine them praying for us, cheering us on, and rejoicing every time we act in faith.
Our Lord wants us to have experiences similar to Nathanael’s. He wants us to respond to him with faith and love, and he knows that this will happen as we immerse ourselves in the study, reading, and praying of the Scriptures. Like Nathanael, our hearts will be open and ready when he speaks.