He is on the list of twelve. Not much more can be said about Bartholomew. Three of the Gospels and the book of Acts mention him as one of the apostles, but beyond that we know almost nothing. Interesting conjecture poses the possibility that Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person. There are other traditions that arose over the years that cannot be proven. Even the word “patronymic” comes up – do look it up. So what do we do with this known yet unknown figure?
Perhaps by not knowing details we are free to play. In contrast to similar stories in Mark and Matthew of friction amongst the disciples over authority and who will get the best seat, the context of Luke 22 is a time of transition from Jesus’ impending death and his expectations of faithful leadership in the continuation of the ministry he initiated. We can then apply to this day Luke’s perspective in his Gospel of the call of Jesus for the disciples and therefore the call of all who will follow through the millennia.
Too often in the Church we get hung up in institutional minutiae. The preservation of buildings and other infrastructure tend to become the main thing and have us focus on survival as we take our eye off of the reason we exist. Notice that Jesus is not preparing the way for institutional preservation. In this last will and testament, he is saying to the disciples, and therefore to us, that the kingdom for which he is preparing is one for which we must be preparing. We do so by living in a manner that creates the greatest possibility for it to break in and break through: “I assign to you, as my Father has assigned to me, a kingdom…” (Luke 22:29).
Jesus has shown in his life and death the very essence of whom God is. The only reason for the Church to exist, and I would add the only reason for a Christian faith community to exist, is so that through our worship of God we might find the reality of the reign of God taking shape in the lives of the people who gather, in the Church we love, and then in our mission whereby we seek to establish God’s reign of peace and justice in the world. A bishop friend says very clearly that the Church does not have a mission. God has a mission and a Church through which to carry out that mission. He does, I believe, have a point. Our purpose is God’s mission as presented by Jesus.
Today’s celebration of the person of Bartholomew, in his historical role and witness, calls us once again to ask the question of ourselves and of the faith communities of which we are a part – why do we exist? What is our purpose of being? Along the way, may we find that we, in the words of the collect for the day, ”…love what he believed and preach what he taught.”