In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, we hear of how those who were eventually named the apostles came to Jesus. While the synoptic Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate how Jesus called the first disciples from their fishing enterprise, the Gospel of St. John gives us a completely different viewpoint. In this Gospel it is the disciples themselves who introduce one another to Jesus.
First Andrew is introduced to Jesus when John the Baptist points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Then Andrew goes to his brother Peter and says: “We have found the Messiah.”
Then Jesus, Andrew and Peter go to Galilee where Jesus invites Philip to join them.
Then today’s Gospel records that Philip went to Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, and says: “We have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.”
When Jesus reveals that he had already seen Nathanael sitting under a fig tree, he says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.
So within the space of fourteen verses, Jesus is called by four different titles: Lamb of God, Messiah, the One about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, and Son of God. They had just met Jesus for the first time and already they are giving him rather exalted titles. Jesus had not done any of the miracles, had not done any preaching, and was still an unknown carpenter from Nazareth. What is the evangelist saying through these introductory verses?
All of these titles were used in the Gospels which preceded the composition of the Gospel of St. John. At the very beginning of his Gospel, St. John has named Jesus something else entirely. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” St. John’s purpose in writing is different than the purpose of the other Gospels. St. John tells us at the very end of the Gospel that he has written it “so that we can come to believe.” Believe what? Believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. So his starting place is to remind us of what Jesus had been called by the other evangelists as he sets out to prove to us that Jesus was the Incarnate Word, a God with skin. John is saying something entirely new. So he begins his Gospel by reminding us what the early Christian community believed about Jesus. Now he is going to go beyond their former way of thinking and present us with a completely different picture.
We may take this all for granted. We are used to thinking of Jesus as God. However, the Christians of the first century didn’t immediately come to that conclusion. It is the Gospel of John which formulates the notion of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh.
After Jesus returned to the Father, it was the task of the apostles and disciples of Jesus to spread the word, the Word made flesh. Today we celebrate one of those men, Nathanael also known by his surname, Bar Tholomew, son of Ptolemy.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator