Homily for the Feast of St. Bartholomew
Both readings for the feast of St. Bartholomew include an invitation. As I prayed with the readings, I was forced to ask myself whether I would have accepted either invitation. Would I be afraid if an angel appeared to me? When Philip asks Nathanael to come see someone that he thinks is the one of whom Moses wrote, Nathanael answers, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” How would I have responded? With fear or cynicism?
When John accepts the invitation of the angel in the first reading, the angel reveals the holy city Jerusalem. John gives us a very detailed description of that city. There are twelve gates in the massive, high wall that surrounds the city guarded by twelve angels. Each of the gates bears the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The city is radiant with the splendor of God and gleams like jewels. The walls are made of twelve courses of stone, each layer bearing the name of one of the twelve apostles. The height, width, and length of the wall are all equal creating a structure that is a cube. The height, width, and length of the wall are twelve stades or furlongs. In other words, architecturally speaking, the city is perfect. Such perfection can be intimidating to human beings who are, by definition, imperfect. I would imagine anyone would be fearful in approaching something that is perfect.
Nathanael’s response can be read in two different ways. Perhaps he is being cynical. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” On the other hand, perhaps he is simply mirroring the expectations that have been placed on the “one about whom Moses wrote.” According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah would come from Jerusalem, the perfect city, the holy city. Nathanael’s response might reflect those expectations. We learned later that Nathanael is without guile; this is hardly the description of the cynical person.
Each of us must ask ourselves how we respond to the various invitations that we have received from God. If we are honest, I think we would all have to admit that sometimes we balk at accepting God’s will in our lives. There are not many people without guile in this world.
Today we celebrate one of the Twelve, the people that Jesus chose as his ambassadors to the rest of the world. The Jewish people of Jesus’s time were not given to going beyond their boundaries. Jesus has invited them to go out to the whole world, bringing the Gospel with them as they go. Ultimately, we have all benefited by the fact that they accepted this invitation.