This is what the Bible tells us about the disciple Nathanael/Bartholomew:
As it is recorded John chapter 1, Jesus decides to go to Galilee and says to Philip, “come, follow me”.
Philip finds Nathanael and tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”
May I introduce you to Nathanael Bartholomew, better known as Nate Bartholomew, son of a ploughman.
First, let me fill in footnotes explaining our friend Nate.
Seeing Nathanael “under the fig tree” was local slang for “I saw you studying the scripture”.
And please don’t get your dander up about his comment on Nazareth.
Nazareth had a slightly sleazy reputation in those days, because a Roman garrison was located there.
Nate was an ordinary guy, a good Jewish boy, educated in Jewish School, probably had been in the top 10, but I am not sure he had much direction or even ambition.
He may have been a little like Susan in the 2nd grade. Yes, this Susan.
We received our report cards and my beloved teacher, Miss Mary Eleanor Gray, had some comments about my difficulty in knowing when to stop talking and I received a “C” in math.
All of my other grades were A+, but math was a “C”.
I was a little worried about the comments about my disobedience when I share my report with my parents, but I had no idea that the big blow up would be about my “C” in math.
Both my parents completely skipped over the A+’s and focused on the “C”.
I didn’t understand why.
I remember telling them, very innocently, “it says C is average…isn’t average good enough?”
I won’t go into the rest of the dialogue and explanations because they really didn’t change my mind that “average” was ok…at least with me.
I believe that Nate thought of himself as an average guy, and average was “good enough” for him, until Philip issued a challenge.
In her poem, “The Summer Day”, Mary Oliver asks a question that Philip may have asked Nate. It is a question that I continue to ask myself.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
It is almost a dare. What are you going to do with your life?
Philip answered that question with three powerful words “come and see”. He didn’t argue, he realized that Nate was skeptical and he appealed to his simple faith.
Dangerous words because he was entering a unknown and in many ways, unsafe pathway, but still he took the first step, and Jesus pays him a huge compliment: “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
At that moment, Nate stopped being average and completely surrendered to the Carpenter of Nazareth.
What about the little Susan, the girl who was just as happy being average?
For many years I remained average, and average was good enough.
I have no startling surrender story.
There was never a time I did not believe, but there were years when I had no relationship.
My first Bible Study was when I was in my 40’s. The study was the Weigh Down Diet Workshop. We walked through Exodus and I was introduced to obedience and it was the starting point of a long journey.
While I was never skeptical, I was still happy to go along in my average life as I believe Nate was before he accepted the challenge.
The I was challenged with a choice like Nate.
Would I grab hold of this wild and precious life?
The wild and precious life was dangling just outside my grasp. I only had to grab hold of His hand and hang on, but it came with a cost, I couldn’t be average any longer.
There were darkest nights and highest mountains and starts and stops and starts again.
God prepared my heart with each study I did and each book I read.
He was building the foundation that I was going to need to stand on and my balance was precarious at best, but I would not let go of His grasp.
Nate Barthlomew became a disciple and was one of the most adventurous of all the disciple missionaries.
His journeys took him to Armenia, Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia, Iran, and India.
It was in India that tradition has it that he was flayed (skinned alive) and beheaded.
He left his average life and took hold of his one wild and precious life in complete surrender.
While I don’t believe that I am prone to journey into the darkest areas of this world (remember, I am the wife that has repeatedly sang praises that Bob was not called into missionary work) I was called to walk out of my average life and walk with Jesus.
It says in 1 Corinthians 10:30 in The Message:
Take your everyday ordinary life – your sleeping, eating going-too-work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.
My call is to take my average, my ordinary, my daily and give this life of mine as an offering, just like my friend Nate did.
I grabbed hold of this wild and precious life…and it has been quite a ride.
And worth every hesitation and bump and dark night.
As Jesus told Nate: “You will see greater things than that.”