“Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an apostle to preach the blessed Gospel. Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
[Collect for St. Bartholomew]
August brings a Festival Day for one of the Twelve Apostles. The Church remembers St. Bartholomew on August 24. He is listed among the Twelve in the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke], but his name is not found in John’s Gospel. This has led the Church to teach that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are one and the same individual. Part of the reasoning is that Bartholomew is always listed in connection with the Apostle Philip in the Synoptic listings of the Twelve and that Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus (cf. Jn 1:45-51). It is also based on the fact that Bartholomew is a Hebrew surname, meaning “Son of Tholomai”; his first name is never given, so it may well be Nathaniel.
One of the appointed Gospel readings for St. Bartholomew’s Day is from Luke’s account: “A dispute also arose among [the disciples], as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And [Jesus] said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”(Lk 22:24-27) Importance in society was measured by how much authority or influence one could exert. But Jesus turns this around for His followers. His way is laid out so that service is found to be more important than who is recognized as the greatest. True greatness and power would not be found in the Twelve, but in their Lord.
Nothing is really known of Bartholomew other than his call to be an apostle and his being listed among the Twelve. Bartholomew’s partial anonymity fits well with Jesus’ statement. For the Twelve, it should not matter how much prominence or notoriety they possessed. That was not their Lord’s desired intention for them. He had not called them to a life of fame and fortune; He had called them to be His representatives, His witnesses, His spokesmen. But in all these roles, the Twelve had to take up an attitude of a servant. Christ would invest the Twelve with great authority: to absolve or bind sins, to speak on behalf of the Lord God, to baptize and teach new disciples, to plant churches and appoint pastors. That is great authority indeed! And yet, their authority is never of themselves; it is always delegated to them. Even as they went into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, the Twelve were always acting as Christ’s ministers—servants exercising only the power that their Lord had given them.
That role of minister was important for the Twelve to remember. It put the right focus on who they were in relation to Christ. Bartholomew and the rest of the Twelve were not their own masters; rather, they were the Master’s prime ministers, always dependent upon Him. Another aspect of this truth is shown in the Old Testament Reading for St. Bartholomew’s Day: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Pr 3:5-8) The Teacher directs his hearer to true wisdom: not the ideas of men, but in the guidance that the Lord God gives. That same message would be taken to heart by the Twelve, as they would not rely on their own understandings but on the revelation of the Divine Will given by the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.
Trusting in Christ’s wisdom and authority, the Twelve would find the way to life everlasting and show the way to others. Through that faith, Christ’s promise to the Twelve would be fulfilled: “You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials, and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”(Lk 22:28-30) Such a blessed end could not be achieved through the apostles’ own power or greatness. Relying on their own strength, they would never have endured with Christ, let alone achieve a place on a heavenly throne. No, this is a gift, even to the Twelve. It is bestowed upon them by Him who became their servant through laying down His life as a ransom for their bodies and souls. As they carried His Gospel to their fellow sinful men and women, the apostles brought that same gift to others.
One of the new apostles, St. Paul, summarizes this fact well: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”(2Cor 4:7) “Jars of clay” is an apt description of Christ’s ministers. Their value is in what they contain, not in the container itself. Their own strength is weak: one blow will destroy it. So it was for the apostles who suffered martyrdom for Christ’s sake. The barbarians’ blades butchered Bartholomew, ending his earthly life. But the Gospel of Christ which he held and proclaimed was not crushed. For its strength was not based in the apostle’s flesh and bones, but in the words and deeds of the Eternal Son of God, whose resurrection shows that even death cannot bind Him.
For us, salvation is found in that same Christ. We possess a great treasure through the reception of Christ’s Gospel, receiving what He has accomplished for us by His death and resurrection. But we are like those “jars of clay.” Our bodies get chipped and cracked. Our physical strength wears down. A blow will strike us and we will be demolished and destroyed. And yet, what we are given in Christ’s Gospel shall restore us. We live as “jars of clay” in this world, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”(2Cor 4:10) Forgiveness, life, and salvation are bestowed upon us through His divine authority, not through our own reason or strength. So we pray, knowing that our hope can only be found in the power and authority that Christ possesses: “Grant that Your Church may love what [Bartholomew] believed and preach what he taught. . . .” And that is nothing other than the Gospel of Christ and its power that will bring restoration and resurrection to us.