St Bartholomew is usually identified with the apostle Nathaniel, best known from his appearance in the first chapter of John’s Gospel when he asks, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ and to whom Our Lord says, ‘Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ After Pentecost tradition holds that he went East; taking the Good News to Armenia or even India, and was martyred by being flayed alive. He told people about Jesus and suffered a painful death for the sake of the Kingdom. He bore witness to the truth of Jesus’ life and resurrection, and lit a flame which burns to this day. We would not be here, doing what we do, believing what we do, and encouraging others so to do if it were not for the example and witness of people like St Bartholomew who preferred nothing to Christ, who was the very centre of their lives, who gave them meaning and purpose, and who told others so that they might believe and encourage others so to do.
In this morning’s Gospel we are presented with a challenging scene: it’s during the Last Supper, where Jesus takes bread and wine to feed his disciples with his Body and Blood, to explain what is about to happen, that he who was without sin might become sin so that we might have life, and life in all its fullness. In the midst of this we see the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. During the most momentous events of human history Our Lord’s closest friends are engaged in a squabble which seems childish and stupid, ‘I’m better than you’ ‘No I’m better than you’. Rather than being close to their Lord they’re involved in petty one-upmanship, thinking about themselves, about honour and position. It’s remarkably human, we can well imagine ourselves saying and doing exactly the same – we know it’s wrong, and we need to turn away from it.
Rather than explode with anger, Our Lord makes a simple point ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ In Christianity we have a different paradigm of leadership, that of the servant – here worldly values are turned on their head – the Kingdom offers an entirely different way of life, diametrically opposed to the ways of the world, something radical, something transformative, something which offers the world an entirely new way of living, where the service of others is seen as the most important thing. This is not power in worldly terms, the Creator and Redeemer of all humanity takes on a servile role – the greatest becomes the least, and encourages others to do likewise.
Thus, rather than worrying about worldly power the disciples become servants, looking and acting like Jesus, they become transparent so that the light of Christ may shine through them in the world, so that their acts of loving service proclaim the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of the Kingdom. They go from worrying about power and position, the things of this world, to being concerned wholly with the Kingdom of God.
We need to do the same, nothing more, nothing less. In our baptism we put on Christ, we were clothed with Him, we shared in His Death and Resurrection, and were filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow Him, and encourage others so to do. We have everything we need to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles. We too are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might have life in Him, so that we can give our lives to proclaim Him to the world.
As Christians we need to live lives of service, the service of others and of the God who loves us and who saves us. We need to live out a radical alternative in the world, and for the world, to embody an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, and helping others to enter into the joy of the Lord. We need to do this together, serving and loving each other, forgiving each other, bearing witness in the world, not conformed to it, so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.