Tag Archives: St. Bartholomew

St. Bartholomew, the Apostle Jesus Saw Under a Fig Tree

August 21, 2020


When Jesus met Bartholomew for the first time, Jesus told him, “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48b). It is a peculiar and intriguing comment. Why would this behavior be worthy of notice or deserving of a comment? What is spiritually significant about sitting under a fig tree?

St. Bartholomew

St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr.” St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Wayzata.

A shady place is a good place to pray and study. Fig trees have many leaves and a dense canopy. It is hot in Israel much of the year. Most homes were made of stone, out in the open, not protected from the sun, and without fans or air conditioning. During the heat of the day a person could get relief in the shade. It was an ideal place to read Scripture, contemplate it in prayer, study its meaning, and apply it to daily living. “To sit under a fig tree” is a Jewish figure of speech for meditating on Scripture. It is presumed that Bartholomew spent many hours under the fig tree in prayer with Scripture, was thoroughly familiar with its entirety, both the Law and the prophets, and understood that the Messiah had been promised and was coming. When Jesus told Bartholomew that he had seen him under the fig tree, Jesus was telling him that he “caught him” reading Scripture as he was in the habit of doing.

Fig leaves are a reminder of sin. When Adam and Eve realized that the serpent had tricked them and that they had sinned, “they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gn 3:7b). Fig leaves represent sin. Bartholomew went under the fig tree to reflect upon his life, bring his sins to mind, admit them to God, express his regret, apologize for them, offer repentance, and pledge to do better. When Jesus told Bartholomew that he had seen him under the fig tree, Jesus knew that he was confessing his sins to God, that he was sorry for his sins, and that his sins were forgiven (see Ps 32:5).

Fig leaves provide overhead protection. Fig leaves provide shelter from the searing rays of the sun and the pounding rain during a downpour. Similarly, the many leaves in the canopy overhead represent the protection that the Mosaic Law provides to those who stay under it and abide by it. When Jesus said that he had seen Bartholomew under the fig tree, it meant that Jesus was aware that he was well-schooled in the Law, was fully committed to following it, wished to stay under its spiritual protection, and that he was a righteous man.

We need to spend time in the shade. Bartholomew spent time under the fig tree. We do not know what he was doing for sure, but it is likely that it was quiet time spent in prayer and reflection. Bartholomew probably was following the traditional Jewish practice of reading and praying with Scripture under a fig tree. Or, he may have taken an extended amount of time to reflect about his life, particularly the sins that he had committed, been filled with remorse, sought forgiveness, and expressed his intention to live a holier life. Or, he may have been reviewing the Mosaic Law and been making a pledge to God to adhere to the Commandments more faithfully in the future. Like Bartholomew, it is good for us to reserve a block of time to be in the shade of the fig tree, to get away from people and our tasks, break away from the regular routine, sit down alone, be quiet, eliminate distractions, and spend quality time with God, not just speaking but also listening. Fig tree time can also be an excellent opportunity to read the Bible or do other spiritual reading. The options are many. The need is critical. The urgency is high. The time is now. If we sit under the fig tree, Jesus will see us, and when he does, he will be pleased.

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St. Bartholomew

August 23, 2019


Nothing is known about St. Bartholomew except that he was one of the original twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:1). Was he a fisherman like some of the other apostles, or a farmer, a shepherd, or a craftsman? How did Jesus call him? How quickly did he respond? What was his personality like?

As little as is known about him, it is safe to presume that St. Bartholomew was an ordinary fellow like the others. It is highly unlikely that he was from the upper class, wealthy, well-educated, or a polished public speaker.

As an apostle, St. Bartholomew accompanied Jesus over the three years of his public ministry (Lk 8:1). Like the other apostles, even though he heard Jesus’ preaching and saw his miracles, he did not understand much of what Jesus said, was confused about who Jesus was, and was afraid many times. He supposedly was in Jesus’ inner circle, a partner and a friend, yet on the night that Jesus was arrested, he fled (Mt 26:56; Mk 14:50), and when Jesus was crucified, he was nowhere to be found. He did little to distinguish himself. He was an average person, plain and unremarkable, timid and weak, cautious and reserved in his commitment to Jesus.

This all changed, and suddenly. St. Bartholomew experienced an astonishing transformation. When he encountered the risen Jesus, Jesus roused his courage. Then he received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. He had been lukewarm, and suddenly he was on fire for the Lord. Ordinary became extraordinary. Dull became brilliant. Halfhearted became rock solid. Sputtering became supercharged. Reserved became outspoken. Private went public.

St. Bartholomew had spent his whole life in Galilee, but now would take the gospel on the road. His only concerns had been mundane things, but now his concern was the Kingdom of God. He had shied away from opposition and conflict, and now he was ready to do battle with the world.

Church historians believe that St. Bartholomew made a number of missionary journeys. There is evidence that he made a major trip to India and founded a Christian community on the Malabar Coast. There are also reports that he made easterly expeditions to Mesopotamia and Persia, to the modern areas of Syria, Iraq, and Iran; and northwesterly expeditions to Phrygia and Lycaonia, regions in central and east central Asia Minor or Turkey. Tradition holds that his final missionary journey was to the west coast of the Caspian Sea in Armenia, southern Russia, where he both made converts and was martyred.

St. Bartholomew was an ordinary person, and Jesus called him to do extraordinary things in his name. He may have been unworthy, but Jesus made him worthy. He may have been weak, but Jesus gave him strength.

Likewise, most of us are rather ordinary. We have our shortcomings and faults. Yet, despite our limitations and flaws, Jesus still calls us not only to follow him but also to serve him, and to do so without holding back. Jesus uses ordinary people. He givse us courage. The Holy Spirit gives us power.

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Jesus: The Keystone — Bartholomew: A Foundation Stone

August 24, 2018


Jesus the keystone

A Grand Edifice. St. Paul describes the church as a magnificent structure or a sacred temple (Eph 2:21). It is a grand and glorious building, breathtaking, a sight to behold. Jesus is the keystone, the apostles are the foundation stones, and the members are living stones. Over the centuries it has become a towering skyscraper, one generation of believers after another, one floor of living stones built upon another.

The Keystone. Jesus is the keystone or capstone of the church (Eph 2:20). Ancient buildings were made of stone blocks. Construction began with the erection of walls built with large blocks that were laid one upon another. Mortar and cement were not used. The great weight of the stones and the force of gravity made the wall rock solid. At the top of the wall, particularly over doorways and windows, there was an arch, and a scaffold was needed to build it. The scaffold supported two rows of angled stones, one row on each side. Then, at the place where the two rows came together in the middle at the top, one triangular-shaped stone was wedged between the two sides and hammered into place. This stone, the keystone or capstone, pushed so forcefully in each direction that it held the entire arch in place. Then the scaffold was removed. With the keystone in position, the building stood firm. If the keystone ever were to be removed, the building would come crashing down. Jesus is the keystone of the structure, the Church, and “through him the whole structure is held together” (Eph 2:21).

House built on a solid foundationThe Foundation Stones. The foundation is the lowest level of the building, either the basement or the ground floor. It is laid first, everything else is built upon it, and it supports the weight of the entire structure. The larger the building, the more important it is to have a sturdy foundation. The Church is massive. It spans the globe. It has a great multitude of members “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rv 7:9). A building of epic size requires foundation stones that will not shift or crack, but remain firmly in place. When it comes to the Church, it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph 2:20a).

Apostolic Foundations. The bottom floor of the Church is twelve courses of stone laid by the twelve apostles (Rv 21:14). The apostles support the building with heavenly teaching. Peter, James, John, and Paul wrote enlightening letters. The apostles were missionaries and took the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:19), and wherever they went to preach, they laid the foundation for a new Christian community, a new addition to the magnificent building that is the Church.

A Massive Building Project. The apostles traveled far and wide and laid foundations in multiple locations: Peter throughout Israel and in Antioch, Corinth, and Rome; Andrew in Asia Minor and Greece; James the Greater in Spain and Jerusalem; John in Ephesus, Patmos, and possibly Rome; Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis; Thomas in Syria, Persia, and India; Bartholomew in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Armenia; Matthew in Judea and Ethiopia; James the Lesser in and around Jerusalem; Simon the Zealot in Egypt and Persia; and Jude or Thaddeus in Mesopotamia and Persia. The apostles gave heroic witness with their unyielding commitment to Jesus, the fervor of their prophetic preaching, as well as their courage and determination. All but John died a martyr’s death, and through the blood of the apostolic martyrs seeds were sown and the Church experienced tremendous growth.

St. BartholomewSt. Bartholomew, A Foundation Stone. Bartholomew is an ashlar, a huge multi-ton stone in the foundation of the Church. He was a “true Israelite” (Jn 1:47a), a person who knew God’s law and obeyed it. Jesus said, “There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47b); Bartholomew was not two-faced, he was good inside and out. Jesus also said of Bartholomew, “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48), a Jewish saying which means, “I saw you reading Scripture and meditating on it.” Bartholomew told Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (Jn 1:49); he made the earliest major profession of faith by an apostle. After Pentecost, he was a missionary and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, first in India, then in the Middle East and Turkey, and finally in Armenia where he was martyred, skinned alive. Bartholomew was on Jesus’ first construction crew, and with the other apostles, he buttressed the foundation of the Church.

Living Stones. Jesus is the keystone at the top of the building, the apostles are the foundation stones at the bottom of the building, and the disciples of Jesus are the living stones that make up the rest of the building. Peter wrote that believers are “like living stones” and he taught Christians to “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). With Jesus as the head and the apostles as the foundation, the construction program can move forward.

Stones. Peter says “stones,” not “stone.” One stone does not make a wall, and it takes many believers to build the Church. It is a community project, not a personal endeavor. Christianity is not a private affair. Jesus gathered a diverse group of apostles and prayed that they would be unified as one. Doubting Thomas showed the error of going off alone. Whenever a sheep wanders away, the Good Shepherd wants to rescue it and bring it back to the flock. There are no individual stones in the Church; they are attached to each other.

Living. While a stone or brick is inanimate, a Christian is vibrant and energetic. A living stone is a loving stone. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). A living stone also practices self-denial and is able to endure suffering. Jesus explained, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). A living stone follows the example of Jesus, as he instructed his apostles at the Last Supper, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). A living stone is dynamic, and Matthew Kelly, in his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, explained the four distinguishing characteristics of a living stone: one who prays each day, studies the faith, is generous, and evangelizes by sharing their belief in Jesus and the Good News of his gospel with others.

A Towering Skyscraper. Jesus and his apostles did the groundbreaking for his magnificent structure two thousand years ago, and the project continues today. The apostles were the foundation, and every subsequent generation has added a floor. If one generation is roughly twenty-five years, four floors are added every century. The building has been going up for twenty centuries and is now an eighty story skyscraper. Our parents built the eightieth floor. Our grandparents built the seventy-ninth. We are building the eighty-first. Since one floor is set upon another, every floor must be well built and the stones must not be cracked or flawed, otherwise the strength of the building will be compromised. More floors will be added after our time on earth is done. It behooves us to be strong living stones so our floor will be able to carry the weight of the floors that will be added in the centuries to come.

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St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 18, 2017


St. Bartholomew

A true Israelite without duplicity

When Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel, saw Bartholomew, Jesus said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47). This was not an ordinary comment or simple observation. It was a keen insight and a tremendous compliment.

The “true Israelite” of the Old Testament is Jacob. After Jacob wrestled with an angel, the angel gave him the name “Israel” (Gn 32:29), a name that God confirmed (Gn 35:10). Jacob is the first and original Israelite. He is the third patriarch. His grandparents were Abraham and Sarah, and his parents were Isaac and Rebekah. He had a twin brother, Esau, who was born first (Gn 25:21-26) and possessed the birthright. Jacob was devious or duplicitous because he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the birthright that he intended to give to his firstborn son Esau (Gn 27). Jacob may have been a true Israelite, but he sinned; he was a man with duplicity.

Bartholomew excelled his ancestor Jacob. Bartholomew was not an Israelite in name alone. It was a description of his spiritual condition, the state of his soul. He was a model Jew, a man who loved God with his whole heart and embraced his Jewish faith. He was righteous in that he meticulously observed the Mosaic Law. He was just and honest, truthful and trustworthy, a man of integrity with impeccable character. As a true Israelite, he was also a man of prayer, and his prayerfulness showed itself in his virtue. He was loving and kind, patient and understanding, humble and gentle, well-mannered and polite, compassionate and merciful, generous and faithful, modest and pure, industrious and reliable, and attentive to the needs of others, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. He was pleasing to God and a shining example to others of how to live the Jewish faith.

Bartholomew was unlike his spiritual ancestor Jacob. Jacob was duplicitous and Bartholomew was not. Duplicity means two or double. A duplicitous person is two-faced, someone who projects a good and honorable outward appearance yet has a hidden dark evil side; an individual who is sly, sneaky, and dishonest. Jacob deceived his father Isaac. Jacob wore his brother’s clothes, covered his smooth skin with animal hides, brought his father a meal that he neither caught nor prepared, and lied when he impersonated his brother.

Bartholomew, on the other hand, was a man without duplicity. He was good inside and out. There was no conniving or scheming, no secret agendas or ulterior motives. He was honest, straightforward, trustworthy, and innocent. Everything was above board. When it came to Bartholomew, “what you see is what you get.”

Bartholomew is a model and an inspiration for how to be a disciple of Jesus. As Bartholomew was a true Israelite, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be a true Christian, and as Bartholomew was a man without duplicity, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be good inside and out.

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