Commentary on the Gospel of

Eileen Burke-Sullivan - Creighton University's Division of Mission and Ministry


The Latin Rite Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of Bartholomew (in John called Nathaniel) one of the named twelve apostles in the Synoptic Gospels.  Bartholomew/Nathaniel is a close friend or relative of Philip apparently, as he shows up in Gospel accounts with Philip in tow, or Philip shows up with him in tow.  We know nothing about him or his profession, but there are many early accounts that his mission after the Resurrection was to proclaim the Gospel across the Middle East and Central Asia as far away as India where there are various traditions of his work in other communities than Thomas (the doubter) that also is credited with going to India in the late first Century.

Like the sons of Isaac who are the “fathers” of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Church honors the twelve who are named in various Gospel accounts as the “fathers” of the “tribes” or communities of the Christian Church that stands on the foundation of Peter and who are held together by Christ’s Spirit under the guidance and companionship of Peter and the headship of Jesus. 

The word Apostle means witness – one who shares in complete confidence the transforming power of Jesus in his or her own life (Mary Magdalene has been named the Apostle to the Apostles by Pope Francis and her feast has been given the same status as the other apostles.)  Such sharing is by deed even more than word and the deeds are so convincing that whole tribes and nations have continuously believed the truth of their witness about Jesus through the centuries.  For Bartholomew, as with the others, he does not announce his own deeds, but Jesus’s deeds and thus we know Christ and know only that this faithful man gave his life and death that Jesus might be known, loved, and followed.

The Gospel today invites us to recognize his Apostolic call – he came to meet Jesus at the behest of his friend or relative – he encounters Jesus’ loving gaze, and the fact that Jesus “knows him” – as God knows him, establishes his committed relationship to come and see, to discover for himself what God was inviting him to become.  With the others, he had no earthly shelter against the storms of nature or evil, only Jesus’ confidence in the Father.  He had nowhere to lay his head but where believers granted him rest, no security but God’s love made present in Jesus.  He witnessed Jesus’ human death and the glorious resurrection and recognized that God was building a New Temple in a New Jerusalem for those who would become the members of Jesus’ Body.  With his companions his feet were washed by Jesus, who perhaps gazed at him again and gently confirmed the rightness of his witness.  In all probability he ate fish with Jesus at the seashore after the resurrection and knew that he himself and the world he dwelt in were forever transformed.  In receiving Jesus’ Spirit, he could speak with the power of witness anywhere on earth – and he followed the Spirit to do just that.

Bartholomew is one of the foundation stones of that New Jerusalem that the Book of Revelations text speaks of today.  Transparent, and beautiful, the Church recognizes one of its foundation stones and honors him by simply celebrating his witness of Jesus.  Like nearly all the faithful members of the New Jerusalem he needs no biography.  His own name might be Bartholomew and it might be Nathaniel or some amazing combination of the two, but his identity is clothed in the truth that Jesus knew him, loved him, called him to follow and claimed him forever in the Reign of God, that is everlasting life.  Bartholomew asks us to trust that the message he received is the same message each of us is given – come and see, believe, receive, and witness.  May we have the courage that he had to say yes!


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