Under the fig tree on St Bartholomew's Day

Amongst the various interpretations of the words of Jesus in John 1:48 to Nathanael - i.e. Saint Bartholomew - one in particular has caught my imagination over the years: 'under the fig tree' as a figure of speech for study of the Scriptures.  This then lead's to Nathanael's confession of faith, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel", a confession deeply rooted in the promise of the Scriptures of Israel.

Cranmer's collect for Saint Bartholomew the Apostle can be read as echoing this understanding:

O ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who didst give to thine Apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach thy Word: Grant, we beseech thee, unto thy Church, to love that Word which he believed, and both to preach and receive the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After the example of Bartholomew/Nathanael - the one 'under the fig tree' - we are called to love, preach, and receive the Word. This is a theme which resonates throughout the classical BCP.  The Prayer for the Church Militant petitions that "with meek heart and due reverence" we "may hear and receive thy holy Word".  The Litany petitions that bishops, priests, and deacons will be given "true knowledge and understanding of thy Word".  We are, then, called to be those who are 'under the fig tree'.

The 1922 Lectionary also draws us into this understanding of the example of Nathanael/Bartholomew.  At First Evensong, the second lesson is John 1:43-end, setting this gospel reading before us as a key text for the feast. The first lesson at Mattins, Ecclesiasticus 39:1-10, reflects on the character of the scribe:

But he that giveth his mind to the law of the most High, and is occupied in the meditation thereof, will seek out the wisdom of all the ancient, and be occupied in prophecies ...

He shall shew forth that which he hath learned, and shall glory in the law of the covenant of the Lord.

This is reaffirmed at Evensong by the happy coincidence of the 24th evening of the month being that on which Psalm 119 is commenced:

Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way: and walk in the law of the Lord.

On the feast of Bartholomew, we begin the great psalm which celebrates sitting 'under the fig tree'.

That this feast occurs at the end of Summer, as Autumn approaches, adds to this richness.  We are about to enter into the season of "mellow fruitfulness", of abundance, of harvest.   And this is what it is like to dwell 'under the fig tree': "For thy testimonies are my delight" (Ps.119:24).


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