Introduction: How a Lutheran Regards the Saints
The Augsburg Confession states that “the remembrance of the saints may be commended to us so that we imitate their faith and good works according to our calling…. However, the Scriptures do not teach us to pray to the saints or seek their help, for the only mediator, propitiation, highpriest, and intercessor whom the Scriptures set before us is Christ” (AC XXI, Tappert).
Lutherans teach three benefits that may be gained by examining the lives of the saints: 1) Thanksgiving to God for sending teachers and other gifts to his Church; 2) The strengthening of our faith by the examples of how God provided for his saints in the past; 3) The examples of godly living provided by the saints which we may imitate.
We do not pray to the saints, nor do we give them any glory that rightfully belongs to God, but we honor their lives as one honors the soldier who gave his life for a righteous cause.
Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and is usually identified as the same as Nathanael, and he was one of those to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Tiberias after his resurrection (John 21). The story goes (although it is not certain) that Bartholomew went on a missionary tour tho India, where he preached the Gospel and left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. He is also supposed to have evangelized in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, and other parts of Greece.
Bartholomew is said to have been martyred in Armenia. According to tradition, he converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity, after which Astyages, Polymius’ brother, ordered his execution. Bartholomew was then flayed alive and crucified upside-down.
The symbol of Bartholomew is often a silver knife with a golden handle over a golden book, with a red shield behind. This symbol represents Bartholomew’s faithfulness to the Word of God, even as the knife took his life. Other symbols include three knives (again to recall Bartholomew’s martyrdom), or the branch of a fig tree, to recall what Jesus said to him in John 1:48: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
The question of what Jesus meant by that revelation has bothered theologians for centuries, especially because of Bartholomew’s reaction: he responded by exclaiming a confession of Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. Some have thought that Bartholomew’s reaction was too intense for Jesus’ statement to be merely a demonstration of his omniscience. Somehow, what Jesus saw was enough to show Bartholomew that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, as Philip had told Bartholomew.
It was the custom of devout Jews at this time to study the Scriptures and the Talmud in some quiet, secluded place. Bartholomew may have chosen the quiet shade of a fig tree as his place of meditation, and so here he read the Word of God, and here he prayed to his God – perhaps he even prayed for the Messiah to come. What Jesus saw of Bartholomew was not merely Bartholomew’s physical presence, but his prayers. Jesus, as God incarnate, saw into the heart of this man, heard his prayers, and knew how deeply he desired that salvation would come. When Jesus told Bartholomew that he had seen him, Bartholomew knew that this was the one who was the hope of all Israel.
Of course, this is an interpretation, which cannot be definitively proved. In the account in John’s Gospel we are given only a mystery, and our imaginations seek to fill in the gaps. We can only take the facts given to us in the Word: that Bartholomew was a devout Israelite who hoped for the coming of the promised Messiah, and when Jesus met him, Bartholomew believed. We can only acknowledge the faith of this disciple and the power of Christ, whose revelation brought him to faith as his disciple.
August 24th had been held as the day of St. Bartholomew since the Middle Ages and before in Western Christianity, to celebrate the life and martyrdom of this witness of the Gospel.