According to the Daily Office, today is the feast day of Saint Bartholomew, one of the original disciples of Jesus who was also thought to be known by the name Nathanael. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that today’s gospel reading (John 1:43-51) tells the story of Nathanael’s call, which included the promise he would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
Of course, even though that promise wasn’t fulfilled for Nathanael in quite the same way that is was for Jacob (whose story appears in today’s Old Testament lesson, Genesis 28:10-17); the “opening of heaven” was, in fact, exactly what Nathanael saw. He saw the Word made flesh and made available to all. He saw the Lamb of God sacrificed to take away the sins of the world. He saw a “stairway to heaven,” fashioned from the life, death and resurrection of the Son of Man.
Ironically, however, Nathanael remains practically unknown to us. Outside of today’s reading, there is only one other place in the gospels that his name appears (unless you count four places that “Bartholomew” is included among the list of apostles), and that comes after the resurrection when Jesus appears to a small group of his followers while they’re doing some fishing.
And maybe that should offer a word of encouragement to us. One doesn’t have to be a “hero of faith” in order to receive God’s promises or to become a part of what Jesus is doing in the world. Tradition says that Nathanael eventually carried the gospel to other parts of the ancient Middle East and gave his life for the Savior he loved. But that’s not where his journey began. It began with a promise — and with an ordinary man who was willing to take Jesus at His word and to follow where He led.
What promises of Jesus are speaking to your heart today? And how might trusting in those promises create a “stairway to heaven,” by which the grace and love of God can find its way to you — and through you to others?