The cynical Apostle -Feast of St Bartholomew, Apostle – John 1: 45-51
Jesus begins His ministry with borrowed disciples; they were not His, for they were first the disciples of John the Baptist. It is John the Baptist who hails Jesus as the Lamb of God, prompting the two initially unnamed disciples to follow Jesus. They must have been stalking Jesus long enough for Him to turn and ask them what they wanted. What were they looking for?
That’s the first take away from this Gospel. Simply following Jesus makes little sense if we haven’t figured out what we want. What are we looking for? Jesus was most certainly looking for disciples, not followers. The answer we give to His question makes all the difference.
The answer of the two unnamed disciples was not some plea to be lodged for the night; they wanted a permanent home with Jesus. “Where do you live” was not a matter of asking for His address (which incidentally He had none). They wanted to be with Him, always. They wanted to be disciples, not followers. Which brings us to the second point; discipleship is not some ‘one night fleeting romance’, it calls for tough love.
The third take away from the Gospel of today is interesting. We often assume that a call, whatever state of life that call may be to, is followed by a process of discernment. Let’s not close ourselves to what happens in this Gospel today. Much before the call, we find the disciples in a process of discernment, which includes a discussion between Jesus and the two unnamed disciples. Here there is a ‘discernment process’, after which Jesus calls the disciples, “come and see”. The discernment may also precede the call.
Discipleship is also a matter of conviction. The two unnamed disciples who accepted the invitation of Jesus, have willing submitted themselves to His ‘seminary’. They came, they saw (verse 39) and they were conquered. Scripture tells us that they “remained with Him that day.” It must have been one interesting day, for they say a complete yes, in less than twenty four hours. They have fallen for Jesus, hook, line and sinker. This makes Jesus’ sales pitch of action before words, a hard act to follow. Often, the best salesmen of the world believe the opposite to be true.
The Gospel now tells us the identity of one of the unnamed disciples; he is Andrew. Andrew has not only been drawn into the fold; he now professes it with certainty and introduces his brother to discipleship; “We have found the Messiah”. Realistically speaking, in finding the Messiah, Andrew actually found himself! Jesus now has His third disciple, Simon and calls him Cephas, the rock.
The seminary of Jesus is truly an itinerant one. It had no structure, for it was mobile and moved with the master. We are told that the next day Jesus trudged off from the Jordan to Galilee, with His seminary of three. We still don’t know who our second unnamed disciple is, but we now meet the fourth, Philip who also came from the city of Bethsaida, which Andrew and Peter called home.
This brings us to the last reflection on discipleship and to our saint of today. A disciple must be an evangelizer who must be willing to face criticism and cynicism. Nathaniel (Bartholomew) flat out mocked Philip when told they had found the Messiah. “What good can come from Nazareth?” Philip was not one to lose heart in the face of cynicism. He makes the same offer to Bartholomew that Jesus made to Andrew and the unnamed disciple; “come and see”. The words of Jesus in verse 39 now become his own (verse46), as it should become ours.
The call to discipleship is a call to unity, but not to uniformity. We may either be pointed in the direction of Jesus, as Andrew and the unnamed disciple were, by John the Baptist, or we may be introduced to Jesus as Peter was, by his brother. We may answer the call directly from Jesus, as Philip did or we may meet it with cynicism like Bartholomew.
Bartholomew believed because Jesus revealed his past to him. We don’t need to only believe because Jesus or any one may reveal our past. We believe because we know that Jesus died and rose for us; and that assures us of our future. As someone wisely said, ‘past imperfect, present tense but future perfect”.
The feast of this once ‘cynical disciple’ is celebrated in the Church today. He was not perfect when he was called but he stove to be faithful in his call. The traditions surrounding the apostolic mission of Bartholomew are varied. It is rumoured he came to India too, though this seems very improbable. Some hold that he had been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia. According to one account, he was beheaded. A more popular tradition holds that he was flayed alive and crucified, head downward.
This apostle must have certainly made a great impact on many, including the great renaissance painter Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. For when he painted the last judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, he painted a flayed Bartholomew holding his own skin; the face though was that of Michelangelo himself.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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