Today we celebrate the feast of St. Bartholomew. St. Bartholomew is mentioned in all three of the synoptic gospels as a friend of St. Philip…in fact he is never mentioned WITHOUT Philip being mentioned in the same breath.
Tradition holds that he converted the Armenian king Polyminus to Christianity in the first century. Both he and St. Jude are the patron saints of the Armenian Orthodox church. Tradition also holds that Polyminus’ brother Astyages ordered Bartholomew’s execution, a particularly ghastly affair where Bartholomew was flayed alive and subsequently crucified head down. In Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment he is depicted as holding his skin, knife in hand.
The gospel passage assigned for St. Bartholomew is fitting I think. It is Luke 22:24-30:
“A dispute arose among the apostles as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘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. You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'”
The phrase that sticks out in my mind is, “But I am among you as one who serves.” Wouldn’t it have been so much easier for Jesus to simply have confirmed that the greater one was the one at table and just leave it at that? But instead, as usual, Jesus is calling us to a life that is, in the end, more enriching and filling than the life into which we are born. He is asking us to be servant leaders…to be able to take on the most menial of tasks because it brings out the very best in us.
Serving someone else means that we put their needs before ours. It shows a sensitivity on our part to what is needed by the other person before we think about our own needs. Serving someone makes us humble.
My prayer for us today is that we find ways this coming week to serve others…that we give up our place at the table and invite another to be lifted up, and then to serve that person with grace and dignity. I invite you this week to look for ways, both big and small, that you can serve another. In doing so you are modeling the behavior of Christ who was to serve us by giving up his very life and in doing so setting the whole world free.