Daily Reading for August 25 • St. Bartholomew the Apostle
The remarkable characteristic of Bartholomew is his low profile. We cannot even be sure who he was. Early sources suggest his full name was Nathanael bar (son of ) Tolmai—later, Bartholomew—the Nathanael who was the friend of Philip and who questioned, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Even though he is reputed to have written a gospel, it did not survive. Neither do we know for certain of his ending. While not the only one of the twelve to live in relative obscurity, Bartholomew represents a quiet alternative to the more visible and vocal public witnesses so frequently associated with the apostles.
Is it purely by accident that Bartholomew is overshadowed? Is it merely that his signal contributions, like so many, were lost for lack of archival care or scattered in subsequent upheavals? Were his contributions intentionally destroyed by jealous or rival factions of the kind that divided the post-resurrection community into separate cohorts of loyalty to Peter or Paul or Apollos? Was Bartholomew one of those persons who actually did very little, who only went along for the ride, so to speak? Or was Bartholomew the thoughtful one, prone to process his faith internally and intellectually, without a big fuss? . . .
We are never to excuse cowardice or demur from opportunity, but neither can we look down on those whose genuine gifts manifest themselves quietly. The meditative and thoughtful, the quiet and unassuming, also serve. That we have a written witness of Jesus’ life and teachings at all we owe probably not to the flamboyant but to the cloistered imaginations that shaped the narratives and hands that recorded them. That we have a faith at all we owe to the multitude of anonymous scholars and scribes who wrote, tended, and translated the story.
From Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts by Sam Portaro (Cowley, 2001).