“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see” (John 1:46).
It is so easy to write off a person, a town or even a city. We Nigerians are so used to asking a person “where are you from?” and this is a question that immediately brings out our prejudice and further our divide. We relate with people not based on what they are, but based on where they come from.
Just because you know one or two businessmen who are Igbo, you conclude that all Igbo men are lovers of money. You read about Boko Haram on the internet, and you suddenly assume every Northerner is a Muslim jihadist. Well, let me not say anything about my own state, Edo, because it also suffers from a not-so-good prejudice. The point is clear, we cheat ourselves by denying faith and reason when we hold on to these false notions.
The life of St. Bartholomew who we celebrate today is a clear testimony to this fact. He was deeply prejudiced about Nazareth. Perhaps he had had some bad experience with one or two people from that town and so he concluded that the entire town was good-for-nothing. He was obviously not pleased when Philip told him that the Long Awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ is from that same Nazareth.
Bartholomew (also known as Nathanael) asked a question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Imagine someone asking if anything can come out of your town. I think the best response is for you to live your life in such a way that your town would forever be famous because of you. Today, Nazareth is famous because of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t you also change the “sad story” of your town for good?
Jesus said two things about Bartholomew that sums up his life; one, he was a man without any guile. Meaning, he was such an upright person unlike the Pharisees Jesus condemned for their hypocrisy. Jesus read his heart and found him worthy of that title. Can Jesus say such about me today? What are those secret sins and bad habits I keep pushing under the carpet and pretending to be a saint before the world?
The second thing Jesus said about Bartholomew was that He saw Bartholomew under the fig tree. A priest in his homily a couple of days ago explained that the fig tree was a symbol of the prayerfulness of Bartholomew. Even before meeting Jesus face to face, Batholomew had established the habit of going to the fig tree (a quiet place; similar to the Blessed Sacrament) and what he didn’t know was that each time he went there alone to pray, God was with him, taking note of his prayer.
This is the reason Bartholomew immediately called Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel. Bartholomew’s faith in Jesus as God was firmly established because it was obvious that only God could have seen him going under the fig tree to worship. Do I realize that each time I go to a quiet place to commune with God, I am not simply passing away a time? That I am really doing something that is very important? Do I often visualize God looking at me even when no one else is around?
Finally, Jesus promised Bartholomew that he would see greater things; heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending. This promise is not reserved only for Bartholomew, it is for all of us so long as we are people without guile and we are as prayerful as Bartholomew.
Dear friends, every sacrifice we make for being Christians is worth it because heaven is real and heaven awaits us who remain faithful. That fact is further reinforced in today’s first reading. Don’t let anyone deceive you that heaven is not real. Jesus can never lie.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, increase in me a longing for heaven, Amen.
St. Bartholomew, Pray for us.
Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu.