24Aug 24 August. St Bartholomew, Apostle

24 August. St Bartholomew, Apostle

Rev 21:9-14. The City of God has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, representing the apostles.

Jn 1:45-51. The vocation of Nathanael, whom early Christian tradition also associated with the apostle Bartholomew.

The Twelve Foundations of the City Wall

The identity and very name of St. Bartholomew is something of a puzzle. He is listed among the Twelve Apostles of Christ in all three Synoptic gospels (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16) and also as being present at the Ascension, (Acts 1:4,12,13) – and each time he is put alongside the Apostle Philip. While he is not mentioned in John, he is traditionally identified with Nathanael, who is portrayed as Philip’s friend (John 1:45-51.) Under this name, Nathanael, he is described as initially doubting that the Messiah could come from Nazareth (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) But Jesus calls him “a man in whom there is no deception.” Some trace the enigmatic phrase “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”, to a Jewish metaphor referring to studying the Torah. At any rate, Nathanael soon recognizes Jesus as “Son of God” and “King of Israel”. He reappears at the end of the gospel (Jn 21:2) as one of those to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection.

Today’s homily could focus either on the personal flavour of Nathanael’s vocation – as a man called by name, and one who was totally understood by Jesus; or on a general treatment of the Twelve, as the foundational group whom Jesus chose to lead and guide his church. In that case, the imagery from Revelation (twelve angels; twelve city gates; twelve foundation stones) is seen to reflect the transition from the old Israel (of the twelve tribes) to the new City of God, founded by Jesus on the faith and fidelity of his twelve original missionaries (= “apostles”).

An online sermon on the Twelve, by Baptist pastor Geoff Thomas, offers five sub-headings:

1. THEY WERE APOSTLES: These Twelve were his commissioned ones; Jesus Christ appointed twelve to speak and to write for him. Our Lord himself never wrote a book, but he left the work of speaking and writing about his life and teachings to his apostles. This was God’s will for them, and their handing on of his message was achieved by God’s enabling.

2. THE TWELVE WERE CHOSEN: They are listed and named and they were twelve, no more than that. Twelve was a symbolic number; representing the new Israel of God. They had a unique and defined office, appointed and sent by Christ “the apostles he had chosen” (Acts 1:2), witnesses of the very beginning of his public ministry.

3. THEY WERE GIVEN THE HOLY SPIRIT FOR THEIR WORK: “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:25). “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn.16: 13-6).

4. THEY WERE SPECIALLY PRAYED FOR BY CHRIST: The Twelve were chosen by Christ, after spending the night in prayer (Lk 6:12). And during the Last Supper, in his high priestly prayer (Jn 17:6-9)  Jesus prays in particular for the apostles and then for those who will believe in him through their message.

5. THE APOSTLES WERE FOUNDATIONAL GIFTS IN THE CHURCH: The true church, says St. Paul, was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20).  God permits no one to lay any other foundation. Every congregation, all over the world today, has to make sure that its beliefs and behaviour are apostolic. “Do you have a biblical foundation for believing and living as you do?” We may build only upon that foundation that Christ has laid.

First Reading: Revelation 21:9-14

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Gospel. John 1:45-51

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”