|Not "Who is Jesus to Me?" but "Who am I to Jesus?"
The Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle.
Lessons from the proper, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Revelation 21: 9-14.
• Psalm 145: 10-13, 17-18.
• John 1: 45-51.
The Second Class Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 12: 27-31.
• Psalm 44: 17-18.
• Luke 6: 12-19.
The Fourteenth Wednesday after Pentecost; The Feast of the Holy Bishop & Martyr Eutyches, Disciple of Saint John; and, the Feast of Our Blessed Confessor, Priest & Monk Dominic Methodius Trcka.*
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Galatians 3: 15-22.
• Mark 6: 7-13.
9:24 AM 8/24/2016 — The Blessed Apostle Bartholomew, whose feast we celebrate today, is introduced to us under a different name, Nathanael (or Nathaniel). He was from Cana, and a church dedicated to him stands on the spot believed by many to be the site of our Lord’s first miracle, wherein He changed the water into wine. The Gospel lesson for his feast recounts our Lord’s first meeting with him; it would have to because there is no other appearance of him in the Gospels, other than the brief reference to him Saint John makes later, in chapter twenty-one, when he lists the Twelve Apostles for the first time.
Of course, the Holy Gospel’s can only tell us what our Lord said, not what was on his mind when he said it; and, it’s clear that Jesus must have seen something extraordinary in this man: spying Nathanael coming from a distance He could immediately read the state of his soul which, luckily for Nathanael, was without duplicity, as our Lord put it; and from this we can meditate on the fact that Christ is able to see into the darkest corners of our hearts, even into places where we ourselves have ceased to look. In this sense, our souls are like our computers: we think we have a good firewall in place, and our anti-virus software is up to date, but our Lord still gets in and is able to see what we think we’ve long since deleted and now forgotten.
For myself, whenever I encounter this passage I find myself re-reading Saint John Chrysostom’s homily on the first chapter of John's Gospel, and his observation on something that the Evangelist reports in today's Gospel almost in passing: after our Lord tells Nathanael how He saw him under a fig tree—how He saw the purity of his soul—Nathanael says to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Chrysostom points out that the first part of that statement—“Rabbi, You are the Son of God!”—is, word for word, exactly what Peter says to Christ after the miraculous catch of fish, but Peter is responding to a rather impressive miracle. When Nathanael—or Bartholomew—says it, he hasn’t seen any miracles, unless you want to count Jesus seeing him under the fig tree, which certainly doesn’t rise to the level of raising Lazarus from the dead or giving sight to the blind or even the miraculous catch of fish. Jesus’ public ministry has not yet begun at this point; He’s still collecting His apostles around Him. Obviously, when Peter calls Jesus the Son of God, he means something very different than what Nathanael means. Nathanael adds to the end of that statement, “You are the King of Israel!” We will never know exactly what Nathanael meant by that: whether it’s a political statement or reference to a sort of spiritual kingship we don’t know. Certainly, recognizing Jesus as King of Israel—whatever it means—is a far cry from recognizing Him as God; and, Chrysostom points out that this is an important point for us: Nathanael sees Jesus as he is able to see Jesus, having had no previous experience with Him.
Nathanael disappears from the Gospel after this; we know he is there, but what he may have said or done after this point is not recorded. Tradition holds that preached the Gospel in India, and that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Armenia in AD 70 or 71, but we don’t know that from any certain source. It’s safe to assume that his understanding of exactly who and what Jesus is grew and developed over time, as it did for all the apostles. Some, like Peter and John, knew early on that Jesus was God;—they had figured it out—some of the others didn’t realize it until after our Lord had risen from the dead. Judas began where Nathanael may have begun, seeing Jesus as a political figure with spiritual overtones; but, when he realizes that there isn’t going to be a revolution to overthrow the Romans, he becomes disillusioned and betrays our Lord. He does realize it at the end, after his betrayal, and that realization drives him to suicide.
What we have to figure out is how we choose to recognize our Lord, and we are all at different stages in that process. Those who cling to a purely secular and social interpretation of the Gospel would see Jesus as a social and political teacher who inspires us to be concerned for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed, but I doubt they would see Him as any kind of God to whom is owed liturgical worship and some form of personal, moral commitment. By contrast—as you know, because I’ve mentioned it before—I once had a Buddhist coworker who saw in Jesus a spiritual guru with great mystical teachings to impart, but with no understanding of Jesus having any kind of message beyond being at peace with ourselves. The bottom line is: we do not have a right to invent Jesus Christ: He is who He is regardless of what any of us think of Him.
Saint John probably said it best:
He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and the world treated him as a stranger. He came to what was his own, and they who were his own gave him no welcome. But all those who did welcome him, he empowered to become the children of God… (John 1: 10-12 Knox).
And if we wanted some theme to guide our observance of the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, we might consider this: to ask ourselves not “Who is Jesus to me?” but “Who am I to Jesus?” Am I Cain, being asked by God, “Where is your brother?” Am I Elijah, looking for God in the magnificence of nature, and missing him standing right there next to me? Am I Judas, looking for Jesus to solve the world’s problems? Am I Peter, looking for God to save me as I sink into the sea? Or am I Bartholomew, who doesn’t know who Jesus is, but only knows, at this point, that He is someone different, different from anyone he’s ever encountered before.
The first step is to let Jesus define Himself. The next step is to then let Jesus define us.
* Born in Sabaste, Eutyches, a close friend and collaborator of John the Evangelist (and most likely consecrated a bishop by him), suffered the tortures of martyrdom but survived them. After many apostolic travels, he returned to the city of his birth and died at an advanced age.
Bl. Dominic Trcka (1886-1959) was a bi-ritual Redemptorist born in Czechoslovakia, who founded the first joint Latin-Byzantine community of his order in Stropkov in eastern Slovakia. He died in a communist prison, and was beatified along with Bishop Peter Gojdič by Pope Saint John Paul II. Though his death was of natural causes, the abuse he suffered in prison was certainly a contributing cause; and, while the word "martyr" doesn't appear in the title of his feast, the Tyipcon of the Ruthenian Church draws on texts from the menaion for martyrs in the office of the day.