Saint Bartholomew: A Man Without Duplicity
Wednesday August 24, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
Reading (Revelation 21:9b-14) Gospel (St. John 1:45-51)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear Nathaniel speaking to the apostle Philip, and he says to Philip, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Now we ask ourselves: Why would he say such a thing? Well, you can put it into two points of context.
First of all, for Philip to come up to Nathaniel (who is also known as Bartholomew) and to say to him, “We found the Messiah,” just put yourself into that situation. What if somebody came up to you and said, “Guess what! We found the one we’ve been waiting for! The one promised in the Scriptures, we found him!” What would your initial reaction be? To jump up and say, “Let’s go,” or to say, “Sure you have. We’ve been waiting for a couple of thousand years; why would we think it’s going to happen now?” One can understand why there would be a little bit of incredulity right from the start.
Yet, at the same time, there is more. Nazareth is a place that has its name from the Hebrew word Nazar, which means “a shoot.” In the Book of Isaiah, we are told that a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. They knew which family was going to bear the Messiah because it was from the line of David. They did not know who it was going to be. They did not know which sibling it may have been, and so on, but they knew generally which tribe and which family the Messiah was going to come from. And so they founded a town because this little group of people knew that from their numbers the Messiah would come, the shoot that was promised. They founded a place and called it by the title which they expected to be fulfilled: Nazar – Nazareth.
These people were made fun of; they were ridiculed and rejected. Nazareth would have been a little tiny Podunk place out in the middle of nowhere that would have had no more than a couple of dozen people living in it, a very, very small place. In fact, if you go to Nazareth today, the Church of the Annunciation sits over the entire town of ancient Nazareth. That is how small it was. Today Nazareth is a pretty large city, one of the Christian cities in Israel, but if you go to the Church of the Annunciation, there you will find all of the places where people lived in ancient Nazareth. There is a particular cave there that has always been reverenced as the home of the Holy Family. These were not people who were living in the lap of luxury. They were not even people who would have been living according to modern standards at the time. They lived in caves. So one can understand, putting it that way, that these people were seen as being kind of backwards. They were seen as being a little odd and rather eccentric. They though the Messiah was going to come from their numbers – imagine that! They were right.
There is another prophecy about each Israelite sitting under his own tree. And so when Jesus looks at Nathaniel and says, Before Philip called you, I saw you sitting under the fig tree, Nathaniel understood immediately that this was the fulfillment of prophecy. Not only was the prophecy regarding the Messiah fulfilled and suddenly he began to recognize this in his own mind, but also what Our Lord had told him, which is why he would respond by saying, You are the Son of God. This is why Jesus would say, You believe that just because I told you I saw you sitting under the fig tree? The whole exchange would seem a little bit odd to us, but if you put it into the context of what had been prophesied, the things that needed to be fulfilled with regard to the Messiah, and the natural doubts that the people would have had, then we can understand why Saint Bartholomew would have had a few doubts and how his doubts were completely removed by this one little statement, because Our Lord said of him that he is a true Israelite in whom there is no duplicity.
No duplicity means that as soon as he recognizes the truth, he is going to reject everything contrary and embrace the truth in its fullness. There is no falsehood. There is no deceit. There is no selfishness. He was a man of virtue and he would give his life for the Lord – in a most grueling manner, actually. Saint Bartholomew was flayed; he was skinned alive. That is how they killed him. So we see that once he understood Who Jesus was his entire life was changed and he dedicated himself one hundred percent to the service of God.
Now we need to look at our own selves because we know Who Jesus is and we have a few changes we probably need to make because most of us are probably not one hundred percent devoted to the service of God to make sure that we are seeking to do His Will in all things. That is the lesson we have to learn from Saint Bartholomew today: We need to be without duplicity. We cannot put up a façade and make ourselves look nice while underneath we are really pretty rotten. We cannot be living this dual life where we want people to think we are saints while when we are on our own we are anything but. We need to be striving for true holiness. We need to be striving to know and to do the Will of God. We need to be seeking perfect union with Jesus Christ. That is what our lives have to be about. Then we can be members of the New Israel, the new people of God, without duplicity, seeking Jesus Christ with a pure heart so that there is no falsehood in us, that there is nothing phony, but rather that what we are seeking and living is one and the same: Jesus Christ – the Truth, the Messiah, the Son of God, the One Whom we have found, the One Whom we know to be true – and to model our lives after Him and to change so that we are seeking to live only for God every moment of every day of our lives.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.