The Disciple Bartholomew

Based on John 1:43-51

Room 301

The colors in this mosaic are subdued and reflect a quiet and meditative setting.  Sitting alone, under the shade of a tree is Bartholomew.  He is listed as an apostle in the first three gospels and in the book of Acts.  The gospel of John does not mention Bartholomew, but it does tell of Nathanael who is believed to be the same person as Bartholomew.  The name Nathanael is written in the lower right corner of the panel.   The name Bartholomew was not his first name, but probably a family name meaning the “son of Tholmai”. 

As recorded in John 1:43-51, Nathanael and Philip were friends.  When Philip realized that Jesus was the promised Messiah, he went to tell Nathanael. He found Nathanael sitting under a fig tree all by himself.  The artist chose dark tiles to illustrate this withdrawn figure. 

The fig tree was important to the Jewish culture. It was a leafy tree and could provide good protection from the sun. It was said when a man could sit undisturbed under his own vine or fig-tree and meditate, he was at peace.  No doubt Nathanael was praying as he sat under the tree. Perhaps he was praying for his country and the time when this “Messiah” would come and change the situation of the world.  He might have been meditating on the promises God had made throughout the centuries. 

However, when Nathanael was told this Messiah was from Nazareth, he was not impressed.  He asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  This question is found inserted into the hills in the center of the panel.  No prophets of Israel had ever mentioned Nazareth as the home of the Messiah. In Nathanael’s opinion, Nazareth was quite an undistinguished place.  Philip still urged him to come and check things out for himself. That was what he did. 

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, Jesus said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  This was a tribute to Nathanael that Jesus would recognize him as a devout man who was truly blessed by God.  Nathanael was surprised that anyone could make that observation so quickly on so short of an acquaintance.  He questioned how Jesus could possibly know him. Jesus replied to his curiosity, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you”. 

The response of Jesus was significant for Nathanael.  It was not so much that Jesus had seen him under the fig tree, but rather that here was a person who knew his thoughts and understood his prayers. This Jesus knew his dreams and most secret longings which perhaps he had never been able to verbalize.  Nathanael responded, “Teacher, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!”

Christ followed this greeting of Nathanael with the statement that he would see visions of angels ascending and descending on the Son of God. This is depicted in the left center of the panel with the yellow and white tiled angels over the red cross. This illustration Jesus used relates back to the Old Testament story recorded in Genesis 28:12, 13 where Jacob had dreamed that there was a ladder extending from earth to heaven.  Angels were ascending and descending on the ladder. The Lord told him that his family would become a blessed nation. As revealed through time, the ancestry of Jesus was traced through Jacob’s family all the way to Abraham.  The red cross on the panel underneath the angels reminds us that the mission of Jesus was not to rebuild a nation, but rather to rebuild the relationship between God and humankind.  His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead bridged that gap between God and people.   

Nathanael (Bartholomew) traveled with Jesus for three years and he saw some spectacular events.  As noted in the lower left corner of the panel, it is believed that Nathanael brought the message of Christ to many people in India and Ethiopia. Even though he died a martyr’s death, the knowledge he had that Jesus understood the personal issues of his heart helped him to remain faithful until his death. 

Donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Heidelbach

Last Published: November 2, 2013 5:06 PM
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