For All The Saints – Bartholomew the Disciple

Today we celebrate Bartholomew, one of the ‘also rans’ in the company of the 12. Matthew, Mark and Luke agree that he was one of the listed twelve. John doesn’t include him. (For more on the possible identities of Bartholemew, see the work of James Keifer on the lectionary page). None of the gospel writers give him any lines and the book of Acts does not record his travels or work apart from simply mentioning that he was present at The Ascension  On the surface it seems like what we’re dealing with here is a lesser figure in the history of the faith. One could be forgiven for wondering why we remember him at all.
He has a name, however. And he is named. In a story, like the Gospel that includes so many anonymous folks, being named has to count for something. Right?
But even Bartholomew’s name is problematic. Unlike James or John or even Peter, Bartholomew is less an identity than it is a relationship. Let me explain: “Bartholomew” is a common Hebrew construct meaning “Son of Tolmai”. But without an additional name (think “James and John, sons of Zebedee” or “James the son of Alpheus”) there is no specificity. Bart, it seems, is not even his own man, he’s just the son of Old Tolmai.
And maybe this is the key to understanding the witness of Bartholemew. When Jesus teaches his disciples about the notion of “Greatness” in the kingdom (Luke 22:24-30 is the Gospel passage assigned for the Feast of St Bartholomew)  e counters the disciples argument about “who is the greatest” – a question of identity – with a statement about how the greatest is related to the others – “servant of all”. Thus, greatness in the Kingdom is not so much about who you are or what your name is or what deeds youre know for. Rather, it is about how you relate to others.
Thus, the one defined by his relationship – Son of Tolmai – can be a model for us, too. Even if we don’t now exactly who he is.

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