St Bartholomew - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

St Bartholomew

Luke 22: 24-30

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24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.

25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.

26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.

27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.

28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.

29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;

30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

St Bartholomew

St Bartholomew. Matteo di Giovanni.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to visit the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.
The walls are covered in frescos by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi, which focus on the life of St Peter, mainly through episodes described in the Acts of the Apostles.

The work is stunning, the colours vibrant.One of the scenes depicts what is described in today's second reading, where the sick are healed when Peter's shadow passes over them.

But what on earth has this to do with St Bartholomew, whose feast day we celebrate today?

I was distracted by a woman moving swiftly around the space taking pictures with her phone.Cultured and keen, I thought, until I realised she was taking selfies with the frescos as a background.
On reflection this incident was a pointer to something rather important.

In today's Gospel reading the thoughts of the twelve turn towards the coming of the kingdom, and they begin to discuss the positions they might occupy in that kingdom.Jesus stops them and tells them that it is pagan to confuse greatness with power and dignity with recognition.

Greatness in the kingdom is demonstrated in humble service, a greatness which Jesus has displayed throughout his ministry.
The ultimate act of service to humanity is his death on the cross, where he surrenders in transformative love to the most horrific torments human wickedness can achieve.

Humanity is won over by love, and it is that love that motivated the apostolic mission to the contemporary world.

Love triumphs because it is rooted in service - the recognition that human worth is greater than all the preoccupations, injustices and failures, greed and pride that life can throw at it.

The journey of Jesus, from his first struggle with Satan to his final agony on the mount of Olives, has been one of solitary obedience. His friends have not been able to share his burden, but they have supported him with their companionship.The reward for his friends is that they will be part of the kingdom that Jesus initiates.They will eat and drink at his table in his kingdom, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

They are, in fact, to be the nucleus of the new Israel, the Church, part of the growing edge of good news, the good news of God's infinite love for all.

The example of loving service given by Jesus is to be their guide, and in this way they will draw others into the orbit of the divine love.

The fact that this revelation takes place at the last supper gives weight to theĀ  conviction that for the primitive Church the Eucharist was the heart and centre of its life and the place of true encounter with Christ himself.

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke give a panoramic and perhaps slightly fanciful view of the growing edge of the Church, as its influence began to spread through the known world.So the apostles were to proclaim Christ, the Word made flesh, the conqueror of sin, death and decay.They give themselves in imitation of Christ, and this is where their greatness lies.They draw attention to Christ and not to themselves, and they can do this with confidence because they perceive that they are already part of the kingdom brought in by Christ and affirmed by his death and resurrection.

In a very real sense we are the successors of the apostles.The good news of the love of God is in our hands because it is in our hearts, and we too share the Eucharistic life which energised the mission of our ancestors in the faith.

As a Church, as the universal Church in this place, that is what we are for, and whatever views we might have of our own importance can only make sense if we realise that we owe everything to God, who has called us and who loves us like this.

If we fail to see that we shall be like the woman who took selfies in the Barancacci, conscious only of our own importance and not of our call to loving service.

But what of Bartholomew?

Like some of the other apostles he is a shadowy figure, and I guess the second two readings are chosen simply because like the other eleven he shares in the covenant Jesus made with this friends, and his promise of their inheritance of the kingdom.Added to that, there is no mention of him by name except in the list of apostles in the synoptic gospels and in the list of people gathered in the upper room after the Ascension, with Mary the Mother of the Lord.

He is usually identified with Nathanael in the first chapter of John, where he is invited by Philip to 'come and see' Jesus.
The rest of the story of this man is largely legend.
However, both Eusebius and Jerome speak of him as preaching the gospel in India.

He is also, along with Jude, said to have introduced Christianity to Armenia, and the two of them are venerated as the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Bartholomew is said to have been martyred at Albanopolis, being flayed alive before being crucified upside down.His relics were distributed far and wide.Part of his skull is in Frankfurt Cathedral, and it is said that one of his arms, originally given to Edward the Confessor by the bishop of Benevento, is, or was, in Canterbury Cathedral.

In art he is almost always depicted carrying a large knife, and in Michelangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel he is shown with his skin draped over his arm.

He is often associated with medicine, hence the eponymous hospital in this city.He is the patron saint of butchers, leather workers, tanners and others, popular devotion often fixing on the more gruesome aspects of a saint's death.

Whatever the truth is about this man, what is certain is that he was transfixed by the love of God revealed in Jesus and pursued the apostolic mission even unto death.

As we celebrate this sacrament today, we do so, as always, in the company of the saints who have professed this faith before us, including Bartholomew, and whose supportive prayers give us courage in proclaiming and living God's love.

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