Psalm 145: Praise Under the Figs

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

August 24, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this Feast of St. Bartholomew, we pray with Psalm 145. And what a perfect choice!

Your friends make known, O Lord, 
the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

As our Gospel today indicates, many believe that Bartholomew is the same person as Nathaniel – in fact Nathaniel bar Talmai, (Talmai meaning “farmer”, or “son of the furrows”).

Praying with Psalm 145, I picture Nathaniel leaning back into his ancient fig tree, his fingers burrowing into the fertile earth around him. What might have been his deep thoughts as he dissolved into the fig tree’s generous shade?

Knowing Psalm 145 by heart, perhaps Nathaniel prayed it in his own very personal words:

Make me your loyal friend, O Lord.
I see your glory in all Creation.
Let me help others see that glory,
see themselves as a precious part of You.

Maybe Nathaniel had retreated to that tree because the noise around him didn’t hold an answer to his longing. He needed silence to remember that God will always find a way to bring our holy desires to fruition – just like the nearly sweet, unripe figs dancing just over Nathaniel’s pondering head:

The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

Psalm 145:17

Nathaniel found his truth, his answer that day. It walked right up to him in the form of his buddy Philip:

Philip found Nathanael and told him,
“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law,
and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

John 1:45

Nathaniel, perhaps his head and belly still full of figs, takes a little while to get the full picture. But when he does, he gets it completely, unreservedly, and forever:

Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel….

John1:49

You are the One we pray for in our psalms. 
You are the One we have waited for.


The beautiful thing for Nathaniel is that Jesus was waiting for him too.

Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.

John 1:48

We’re all under some kind of shadow at times, longing to hear the invitation of God. The story of Nathaniel assures us that the call will come through our hopeful prayer and deep desire for God’s glory.

Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.


Poetry:  Joy and Peace in Believing by William Cowper, an English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, Cowper changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside.

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing on His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
E'en let the unknown to-morrow
Bring with it what it may!

It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too;
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,

Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

Music: Yet Will I Praise Thee – Kent Henry

How Do You Know Me?

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Saturday, August 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Apostle Bartholomew, thought by some to be the same man as our Gospel’s Nathaniel. This Nathaniel has been my prayer companion since 1964 when I received his name at my Religious Reception.

Tissot
Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree by James Tissot (1836-1902)

At first we were surface friends. I imagined what he might have been doing under the fig tree. I was a little shocked at his easy banter with Jesus. I thought about his skepticism, trying to discern how it could eventually yield his sanctity. I wondered if he ever achieved that vision of “angels of God ascending and descending ...”

But as the years passed, and I prayed beside him more often, we came to understand each other better. Nathaniel began to teach me about Jesus and, with that, Jesus began to teach me through Nathaniel.

It was all about being honest with God and opening my perspective to God’s vision.

You see, we are all under various “fig trees” at points in our lives, those small but confining perimeters of shadow which veil God. Sometimes the shadow consists of an event or experience that makes us says, “How can God possibly be in this?” Sometimes the shadow comes from all the obstacles we have placed in Light’s way. Sometimes it is simply the waning energy required by faith’s long journey.

Whatever its source, the shadow captures us in its incarcerating grasp, isolating us from the outrageous hope and possibility of God awaiting us in every circumstance.

Then a voice – our particular “Philip” – suggests we just step away from the umbra.  A person, a book, a memory, a prayerful insight – A GRACE – invites us to “Come and see” more deeply, to let go of all that we thought secured us, to yield to hope, trust, and an incredible new vision.

Jn1_51 NathanielJPG

It is an irreversible moment of unconditional love. It is the moment we make our own proclamation, not unlike Nathaniel’s:

Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.

Nathaniel’s guileless, faith-filled surrender to Jesus opens the way for his transformation. Jesus tells him, “You will see greater things…”. In other words,

God is so much bigger than you think at this moment.
Open your heart and soul to that Infinity!
Your life in Christ is all about going deeper,

(as the Angel invites us in our first reading from Revelation).

We don’t hear much about Nathaniel after that day. Like many of the other Apostles, he lived out his ministry beyond written records. But we can trust that this man “without duplicity” deepened in his honest dialogue with the God he met and embraced on that amazing Judean afternoon.

Music: Touch of Heaven- Hillsong Worship