St. Bartholomew the Apostle
But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him
be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
(St. Luke xxii. 26)
When it falls upon the preacher to produce some useful exhortation on the Feast Day of one of the twelve Apostles, the task is not always easy. Of course, with some of them, about whom we know more rather than less, the problem is that he is inclined to say too much. Such would be the case with Saints Peter, Paul, John, or even Judas Iscariot – though he doesn’t have a Feast Day, and with good reason. But with others the problem is not that he is inclined to say too little, but that he cannot say very much since we know next to nothing about them!
And it is into this category that today’s Saint Bartholomew falls. He is mentioned in the Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only as coupled with Philip in the list of the twelve Apostles. He is not mentioned in the Gospel according to St. John as Bartholomew, but is there named Nathaniel – this probably being his second name, and is there also coupled with Philip. And if our Bartholomew is indeed the same man as Nathaniel, then we learn a bit more about him from St. John. We know that Philip, who came from Bethsaida, the hometown of Peter and Andrew, was found by Jesus, who said unto him ‘Follow me’. We then read this:
Philip findeth Nathaniel, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. (St. John i. 45-50)
So if Saint Bartholomew is Nathaniel, we can infer that he was from Bethsaida and that he was a skeptic who judged men according to where they came from. So he set himself up for his own come-uppance when Jesus reveals that he knew exactly where he came from – from under a fig tree in a state of laziness and indolence! And so he is converted by the Divine knowledge that Jesus uses in this instance, but with this admonition: Thou shalt see greater things than these. (Idem) What Jesus means to teach Nathaniel, or Bartholomew, is that it is not where a man is from geographically and physically that matters, but rather where a man is relation to the Himself that will matter. In fact, Bartholomew will learn later that this Jesus, who always knows where everyone is, will come to him if he remains faithful. If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (St. John xiv. 23) And also, I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (Ibid, 3)The point he will learn is that where Jesus has come from, is from the Father. And where He intends to lead all men is back to the same Father. Man has come from God and is made to return to God. And so the location that will matter most for Bartholomew in the end will be that inner and spiritual place of union with God the Father, where Jesus Christ comes alive in man’s soul through the Holy Spirit and leads him home to Heaven.
And so with this in mind, I think we will be in a better position to understand why it is not really all that important where the Apostles ended up geographically. They were called, sent, and went whithersoever the Lord guided and directed them. And so how fitting it is that Saint Bartholomew, who formerly judged all others by the historical reputation of particular towns, cities, even empires that spawned them, ends up disappearing from the pages of Scripture after a final mention of him at the Ascension in The Acts of the Apostles. Then for some time it seemed that he was no-where to be found. Saints Eusebius and Jerome catch up with him in the 4th Century, and from them we learn that he had been in heathen and Gentile lands as far removed from one another as India and Armenia. It turns out that the man who cynically doubted whether any good thing could come out of Galilee, came to believe that every good thing could come out of any place so long as Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was being planted, cultivated, and grown in the hearts of men. What ended up happening was that Bartholomew’s prejudices and bigotries were overcome by God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth, (1 Tim. ii. 3) no matter where he found them!
So the Church has always believed that Saint Bartholomew is not to be counted as unimportant or ineffectual because we do not have all the when’s and where’s of his biography. What matters is that he became a true Apostle of Jesus Christ, living in and through his Master, having matured beyond arguments over which of them should be accounted the greatest (St. Luke xxii. 24) as we heard in this morning’s Gospel. For here we learn that at one time he and his fellow Apostles had been posturing and competing to see who would succeed Jesus, like the kings of the Gentiles who exercise lordship over their servants. (Ibid, 25) In all cultures and places the custom has ever been not only where and when, but who should rule over others. But Jesus asks them, who is greater, he that sits at meat, or he who serves? And then he answers it by saying, I am among you as He who serves. (Ibid, 27) And, as we know, what He serves up to His Apostles and Disciples, in the long run, is Himself – the food of salvation. In St. John’s Gospel, he reemphasizes the point by washing His disciples feet, and then says, If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. (St. John xiii. 14-16) Again today He says, I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Ibid, 29, 30) But none of this will come to pass if Jesus’ Apostles and Disciples do not become the where - those inner places and spaces, where He, His Father, and His Holy Spirit dwell and thus wait on others, serving up to them the food of salvation.
This is precisely what we read about in today’s Epistle lesson. For there we read that following Christ’s Ascension, and in the grip of the Holy Spirit’s Pentecostal power, by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people… Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one. (Acts v. 12, 14-16) From different places, and out of different cultures and races, men and women sought ought the Apostles that where they were [spiritually], the people might be also. The where they sought out was the place where Christ was to be found, even in the hearts and souls of His servants, the Apostles. They believed that even the shadow of Peter might heal them, because they believed that Christ was in Peter and Peter in Christ.
So today we remember thankfully the life of one in whom Christ’s Holy Spirit was swaying and guiding, in secret and in company, at all times, in all places, and in all his actions. (Jenks 163)As Christ waited upon and served up the Father’s truth to Bartholomew, He did the same through him to others. And though the bearers and carriers of the Word, like Saint Bartholomew, might end up being lost to the memory of human history, what was most important was that they were always where Jesus was, dwelling in Him, and He in them, as God’s Word was seen and heard, embraced and cherished, grown and passed on. In the end they would be waited upon by Christ in His kingdom, but only after the when and where, the here and now ceased to matter.
So where St. Bartholomew and his fellow Apostles were always was in the spiritual presence of Jesus, as His Love moved them unselfconsciously about this world in pursuit of all lost souls who were seeking salvation. Where they were most significantly was in that spiritual place that could declare with St. Paul, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. (Gal. ii. 20) Where they were always was everywhere. They were scattered about the world shining as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, keeping themselves unspotted from the world, and conquering men’s affections with the Love of Jesus alive in their hearts. And so they could have cared less about their earthly whereabouts or their reputations because they were better pleased to do their duty than to hear about it, not seeking glory from men but the honor that comes from God alone, counting themselves worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. (Ibid, 161) For, they were determined to dwell in that place where, as Eliot writes:
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
… In my end is my beginning.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons