14 Trinity 2008 – St. Bartholomew

Saint Bartholomew & the Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity
August 24, 2008
Verses 14&15 of Acts 5:12-16
‘Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt’

On the Church’s Calendar of Saints, Saint Bartholomew is the Saint and Apostle that we honor today, August 24th. We don’t know a great deal about him from the scriptures because the information contained within its sacred pages really does not have much to say about him. We know that he was first a disciple, then hand selected by Jesus to be numbered amongst the Twelve Apostles. (Jesus’ selection is listed in the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Luke also includes him as being present in the Upper Room with the others following their return from the Mount of Olives where they had been present for Jesus’ Ascension up from their sight into Heaven. And that’s it! That is all that the New Testament record has to say about Bartholomew.

For that matter we hear nothing additional about three other of the original Twelve: James the son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot and Judas (not Iscariot). Though Judas (not Iscariot) in one additional reference asks Jesus a question, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’ Whereas on the other hand we know a great deal about the other eight: Simon Peter, James and John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Matthew and the infamous Judas Iscariot.

It is as if four of the Apostles seem almost to have been excluded from further coverage. Was that because the actions of the majority were so much greater or more noteworthy than anything that any of these four had performed? Was it because, like others of the Apostles, they were not within the ‘inner circle’ of a select three – Peter, James and John – whom Jesus upon occasion took exclusively to accompany him into situations with himself?

Or was it because the nearly forgotten four traveled to such far-flung parts of the then known world that whatever they accomplished there, the news of it did not become known in a timely manner that would guarantee its inclusion in the gospel records? The answer to any of these questions will probably never be known.

There is something we can further ascertain from what we do know from the scriptures. The first thing is that Bartholomew was the Apostle’s surname. It tells us his paternal lineage. We know the paternal lineage of some of the others: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, Jude the son of James, and of course Simon the son of Jonas. Bartholomew, or Bar-Ptolemy means ‘son of Ptolemy. And so it would appear that his father was a Jew, but carried an Egyptian name. But, unlike these the other eleven we do not have or know Bartholomew’s given name.

It is as if Bartholomew, along with James the son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot and Judas (not Iscariot) were and are destined to live in the ‘shadow’ of the far greater. Which of course was the very issue we find in this morning’s gospel account from St. Luke. During the course of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his Apostles, the Passover, a dispute or strife arose among them, as to which of them should be accounted as the greatest. Jesus told them ‘position’ is something that Gentiles argue and wrestle over. Don’t bring it in here! It must not be so amongst them. He that is greatest among them should be as the youngest, and he that is the boss as one that serves others. And he cited his own position to prove his point. They knew his greatness, yet he reminded them that his position has been to serve, indeed to be the Servant of all. And he promised them they would be a part of his kingdom, and that they would eat and drink with him at his table in his kingdom and would sit on Twelve thrones and they would equally share in administering with him at the Final Judgment.

The Holy Tradition of the Church makes up for the silence of scripture, about Bartholomew. The Roman Martyrology says that he preached in India and Greater Armenia; Armenia which was the first kingdom and nation to adopt Christianity as the official religion of the realm. Just how influential was Bartholomew in the planting of the seed that brought about such great conversion? Tradition also has it that he preached in Mesopotamia, Persia and Egypt.

He obviously must have stirred up controversy as he went, which finally gave rise to his arrest. He was flayed (skinned) alive and beheaded, martyred at Abanopolis on the west coast of the Caspian Sea. His relics were said to have been interred on the island of Lipara and were eventually translated to Benevento, Italy, and thence on to Rome, to the Church of St. Barthomew on the Isola San Bartolomeo on the Tiber River. So we have the light of what Holy Tradition can shed upon him.

But he most certainly did not receive an equal share of the spotlight in the scriptural record. The spotlight is squarely on Simon-Peter and the majority of the other. The minority it seems, including Bartholomew, must live in that shadow.

Have you lived your life in the shadow of others who have accomplished greater things than yourself? No matter what you’ve achieved the spotlight seems always to be on them? Can you imagine what it would be like to be Michael Phelps’ younger brother or sister? They would to have to live under his shadow most probably for the rest of their lives. Some siblings would be very happy and honored to do so. Others would eventually tire of always being asked questions about, or hearing praises being bestowed upon, the greatest achiever in Olympic history – who happens to be their older brother. Every introduction to others would be prefaced and qualified by the family tie to you know who. No matter what they personally achieve in their own lives, most probably they’ll never outrun his record or outdo his reputation. They will forever be in his shadow!

But to have Simon Peter’s shadow cast upon you was in fact a highly desirable thing. The essence of this morning’s lesson from Acts can be briefly summarized in these words. ‘By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people…(and) the people magnified them. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them…and they were healed every one.’

We ourselves know that shadows can seem at times a blessing, as on an unseemly hot summer day when one tries to escape the sun’s burning rays by stepping into the shadow cast by a building or provided by an awning; the shadow becomes blessed shade. Or on a scorching summer day as you are looking for a parking space your eye catches a spot open available under the shadow of a large tree – what a blessing that is!

Shadows as signs however may denote caution or predict unpleasant conditions ahead. A North American tradition observes February 2nd as Groundhog Day, when the woodchuck comes out of its hole after winter hibernation to look for its shadow. If its shadow is seen, that is because it is a sunny day; not necessarily a blessing because it is believed the groundhog’s shadow foretells six more weeks of severe weather, and thus a lingering winter.

I wonder how many of you when you were youngsters listened by the family radio to hear this chilling question: ‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!’ Of course The Shadow was not a sinister character, rather he was depicted as being a super sleuth with amazing abilities, who used his unusual capabilities to fight against the sinister, or criminal world.

But in popular folklore shadows frequently take on surreal and sometimes sinister character themselves, and figure in stories about vampires and ghosts, haunted castles and cemeteries. And shadows figure in mystery novels where thugs and murderers lurk in the shadows of alleyways and in darkened doorways. In those stories shadows are foreboding for those who must walk in them.

In the scriptures of both the Old and the New Testaments, however, shadows have divine and positive associations and implications.

In Biblical context the shadow is seen as shelter: Judges 9:15 says ‘Put your trust in my shadow.’ Psalm 17:8 ‘Hide me under the shadow of thy wings.’ Psalm 36:7 ‘The children of men shall put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.’ Psalm 91:1 ‘Whoso dwelleth under the defense of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Song of Solomon 2:2 ‘With great delight I sat in his shadow.’ Isaiah 5:6 ‘It shall be for a shadow by day from the heat.’ Isaiah 9:2 ‘In the shadow of his hand he hid me.’

Within Biblical context the shadow is seen also as a representation of that which is to be: Psalm 102:11 says ‘My days are gone like a shadow, and I am withered like grass.’ Hebrews 10:1 ‘The law has but a shadow of the good things to come, instead of the true form of these realities.’ Colossians 2:17 ‘These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.’

The account from Acts, used as this morning’s epistle lesson, clearly conveys that from the earliest days of the Church Peter was the leader and chief, as Christ himself had prophesied and commissioned him to be, and that Peter was truly influential and full of the Power of God. So filled with the Power of God that people brought the sick on pallets and cots into the streets where Peter might pass by, hoping his shadow would fall on them and, hopefully, they would be healed. Such was the aura of greatness that surrounded the man.

All of which causes one to ponder: What kind of shadow do we cast on those around us? Here are some reflections posed by the Reverend Bryant Wright: Our shadow goes with us wherever we go, never falling on us but on someone else. We are rarely aware of where it falls. Yet we all influence someone. Parents influence their children, teachers influence their students, athletic coaches influence their players, dominant youngsters will influence their playmates.

That being the case, I ask again, what kind of shadow do we cast? It is for good? Or, is it for evil? Who knows what good lives within the hearts of men? Conversely, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? By their fruits ye shall know them. It is by the shadows we cast!

Do our shadows build up, or tear down? Do our shadows encourage, or discourage? Do our shadows help, or hurt. Do our shadows lead people to God, or toward a sinister path? As you think about the life that you live, think about the legacy you want to leave. Will we ourselves follow in the shadow of great spiritual men, those who followed in the path of the Lord Jesus Christ and themselves in turn cast a healing shadow upon the souls and lives of others around them. What kind of shadow will we cast? Have no doubt, because beyond a shadow of a doubt, the shadow we cast will reveal it.