Isaiah 43.8-13 or Acts 5.12-16 or 1 Corinthians 4.9-15; Luke
Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle
Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your word: grant
that your Church may love that word which he believed and may
faithfully preach and receive the same; through Jesus Christ our
ST BARTHOLOMEW is something of an enigma. We are not even sure
of his name. If he is, as is often assumed, the Nathanael of St
John's Gospel, then, we not only know that Jesus called him to be
one of his twelve disciples, but we also know of his perplexity
that anything good could come out of Nazareth; that he came from
Cana, and thus Jesus's first miracle was on his doorstep; and that
he was one of the fishermen who experienced the resurrection
appearance by the Sea of Galilee (John 1.46, 2.1, 21.1-8).
Beyond this, we have to imagine him as one of the crowd of
disciples who was faithfully present, through thick and thin, but
did nothing notable enough to be recorded in the Gospels. Yet he
did remarkable things afterwards: tradition associates him
variously with mission to India, Ethiopia, and Mesopotamia, before
martyrdom in Armenia. It is never too late to serve God in new
The one character reference that we have for him - and it is
telling - is that he was an Israelite in whom there was no guile or
deceit (John 1.47). Few people are totally transparent and
truthful, and yet that was how Jesus summed him up, explaining
himself only by an enigmatic comment about something that happened
under a fig tree, possibly a reference to study of the Torah.
Bartholomew was part of the dispute about greatness at the Last
Supper (of all places). In the sharp exchange it prompted, Jesus
said that the greatest sat at table, but his and the disciples'
place was to be the youngest and the servant. Thoroughly rebuked,
the disciples could be forgiven for being confused when Jesus
promptly described them not only as sitting at table in his
Kingdom, but also sitting on thrones as judges. Were they great, or
were they least?
The collect, forced to be general in its description of
Bartholomew, is nevertheless penetrating, as it recalls the grace
given to him truly to believe and preach God's word. That took
courage, even for a man without deceit. He was, in Isaiah's words,
one of God's witnesses.
Bartholomew and the other apostles discovered that God did signs
and wonders through them, which caused people to set them apart,
hold them in high esteem, and turn to the Lord whom they
proclaimed. Yet read on, and those same revered apostles were in
prison, before - irrepressible after miraculous release - they
returned to their place of arrest, and picked up teaching where
they had left off.
As Paul wrote to Christians who were being misled by false
apostles who denigrated the true apostles, God has a strange way of
using his witnesses. Read Paul's inventory of apostolic trials and
tribulations too quickly, and the import is lost: these people were
treated as fools, and were hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten,
homeless, and exhausted. They were reviled, persecuted, slandered,
and treated as the dregs of the world. Who would choose to be an
But slipped into that catalogue of oppression was something to
mark them out as disciples of Jesus Christ: amid it all, they
blessed, endured, and spoke kindly. They were among their
oppressors as those who serve. That remarkable grace was expressed
by their standing by Christ in his trials, and their growing
conformity to Christ in his suffering.
The faithful facing of such turbulence of praise and persecution
without demur can spring only from a profoundly godly character.
Some better-known disciples, such as St Peter, have their moments
of shambles and success recorded for posterity. Bartholomew is
different. He remains unremarked, subsumed in the phrase "the
twelve", or "the apostles", perhaps naturally reticent - one of the
steady, faithful, and reliable people who stay out of the
limelight, but get on with things none the less.
There have been millions of such faithful people through the
ages. Sometimes, when listening to lists of unpronounceable names
in the Old Testament readings at morning and evening prayer (or,
worse, reading them), I am tempted to switch off, or to skip them;
but I find myself wondering who these people were, what they were
like, and why they merited the recording of their names.
Whoever they may be, St Bartholomew's Day gives us an excuse to
celebrate their inclusion, to celebrate Bartholomew's inclusion,
and to be invited to follow their example of living without fuss,
but with enormous fidelity. Can it be said of us that, like
Bartholomew/Nathanael, we are without deceit?