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Memorial of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle


“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” ~ John 15:16

Today our Church remembers and celebrates Saint Bartholomew, the Apostle who Jesus spotted under the fig tree. We drew from John’s Gospel this morning (John 1:45-51) as we do every year on this day, for it Is the only Gospel which tells us howthe Lord called Bartholomew, referred to as Nathaniel in this passage. The three synoptic Gospels do not provide these details.

As previously mentioned, John tells us that Jesus spotted Nathaniel under a fig tree. Fig trees are very large in the Holy Land, which made them popular places for rabbis to teach their disciples. The shade they provided probably played a large part in that as well. Because of this, some historians believe Nathaniel, or Bartholomew, may have been one of the scribes or a member of the Pharisees. We don’t know that of course, but the fact that he was under the fig tree fuels this speculation.

Fig trees were also symbols of abundance. Figs are very sweet, making them a treasured fruit of the Middle East. As Father Mitch Pacwa pointed out in his morning homily, there are some writings from the Pharisees which spoke of the end times, and that the fig trees would literally “bend down” and give their fruit to the Messiah upon his second coming. This might remind some of the story in Mark 11:12-25, a mysterious passage we read every year during Holy Week wherein Jesus curses a fig tree because it does not bear fruit, causing it to wither and die. In keeping with this teaching, the fig tree did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah and therefore failed to bend down and give our Lord fruit. Its demise at his hands would follow.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This is Bartholomew’s response to Phillip when Phillip tells him he has seen “the one about who Moses wrote,” engaging you could argue in what might be considered the first example of “cancel culture.” But Bartholomew moves beyond his preconceived notions and quickly recognizes Jesus, making his declaration“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Jesus responds “You will see far greater things than this,” which is a recurring promise from Jesus throughout scripture. Our Lord is always pointing towards greater things (Matthew 12:41, etc.). Jesus keeps his promise and performs his first public miracle, in Bartholomew's hometown of Cana no less, turning water into wine at the wedding feast shortly after this encounter and prediction.

We are told that Saint Bartholomew was skinned alive in Armenia, now modern day Iraq, which formed the first Christian Church in the Middle East. As we read in the Book of Revelation today (Rev 21:9-14), Bartholomew’s name is inscribed on the massive, high wall that surrounded the Holy City of Jerusalem along with his fellow Apostles, a testimony to importance of these men and the role they played in establishing God’s Kingdom, which is in our midst and to come. Outside of being coronated the Queen of Heaven , I can think of no greater honor.

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The early Christians knew that everything hinged on being in right relationship with God. In the order of being, this came first. This is a concept that seems lost on our current day leaders among others. Where religion was once deemed to be irrelevant to politics now it is considered dangerous. As modem day Christians we cannot acquiesce to this. What muscle is to the body, virtue is yo the soul. Virtue keeps us upright and in motion, performing our role as vibrant members of Christ’s Mystical Body In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Saint Bartholomew stands before us to tell us that attachment to Jesus can also be live and witness to without performing sensational deeds.”

For Saint Bartholomew, that one seminal moment under the fig tree gave way to Saintly immortality. As servants in God’s Kingdom, may we always remain alert, poised and ready for our “fig tree moment.”

Saint Bartholomew, pray for us.

For more on Saint Bartholomew, please “come and see” my reflection from last year

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