Dear brothers and sisters

in the series of Apostles called by Jesus during his earthly life, today it is the Apostle Bartholomew who attracts our attention. In the ancient lists of the Twelve he is always placed before Matthew, while the name of the one who precedes him varies and can be either Philip (cf. Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14) or Thomas (cf. Acts 1:13). His name is clearly a patronymic, because it is formulated with explicit reference to his father’s name. In fact, it is a name of probable Aramaic origin, bar Talmay, meaning “son of Talmay”.

We have no significant news of Bartholomew; in fact, his name only ever occurs within the lists of the Twelve mentioned above and, therefore, he is never at the centre of any narrative. Traditionally, however, he is identified with Nathanael: a name meaning ‘God gave’. This Nathanael came from Cana (cf. Jn 21:2) and it is therefore possible that he witnessed the great “sign” performed by Jesus there (cf. Jn 2:1-11). The identification of the two characters is probably motivated by the fact that this Nathanael, in the vocation scene recounted in the Gospel of John, is placed next to Philip, i.e. in the place that Bartholomew has in the lists of Apostles in the other Gospels. To this Nathanael, Philip had communicated that he had found “him of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (Jn 1:45). As we know, Nathanael opposed him with a rather heavy prejudice: “Can anything good ever come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46a). This sort of contestation is, in its own way, important for us. For it shows us that, according to Jewish expectations, the Messiah could not have come from such an obscure village as Nazareth was (see also Jn 7:42). At the same time, however, it highlights the freedom of God, who surprises our expectations by showing up precisely where we would not expect him. On the other hand, we know that Jesus was actually not exclusively “from Nazareth”, but that he was born in Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2:1; Lk 2:4) and that ultimately he came from heaven, from the Father who is in heaven.

The complete text of the Catechesis