Will the real St. Bartholomew please stand up? Bartholomew is one of the saints that we know almost nothing about. He is mentioned in the lists of the apostles, but nowhere else in Scripture. So, as is true of many of the saints, what we know about him belongs mostly to the realm of the Church’s tradition. Not that we should look down on tradition, because it comes from the lived experience of the early Church, and is also inspired by the Holy Spirit.
What tradition tells us about St. Bartholomew is that he is often identified with Nathanael in the Gospel. That explains why Nathanael is prominent in the Gospel reading for today. Nathanael – or Bartholomew, take your pick – is picked out of the crowd by Jesus. Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says about him: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” We should recall that Jesus considered it his primary mission to seek out the lost children of Israel, so seeing Nathanael as a “true child of Israel” with “no duplicity in him” means that Jesus considered Nathanael a role model for his people. He was one whose faith reached beyond mere observance of the Law or the Torah, and extended into the realm of living the Gospel. And because he was able to do that, then we should consider him a role model for all of us as well.
It’s very interesting, I think, that we do know so little about the Chosen Twelve. I mean, aside for characters like Peter, John, Matthew, and, well, Judas, we don’t have a lot of details. Still, these Twelve were chosen as Apostles to bring the Gospel to all the corners of the world. And maybe that’s all we need to know about them. It is because of their efforts that we know about Jesus today and are able to seek after the life of grace. Their preaching continues today in every land as Jesus intended, and we continue to have as our example these men in whom there is no duplicity; indeed the sole purpose of their life became the preaching of the Gospel.
That’s where we are all led, I think. When it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than living the Gospel, and every one of us is called to do it. If our spiritual life is not our primary concern, then we have nothing to look forward to. But the good news is that, by the intercession and example and preaching of the Apostles like Bartholomew, we have every hope of eternal life.