Bartholomew (the name means ‘son of Tolmai’) is commonly identified with Nathanael, “the Israeli without guile”, as Jesus calls him in John’s Gospel.
Nathanael was introduced to Jesus by his close friend, Philip. They both came fromCanain Galilea. At that first meeting, it was Nathanael who recognized Jesus for what he was: “Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the King of Israel.”
We know little of Nathanael or Bartholomew beyond this reference in the Gospels. We know that he was one of the ‘Twelve’, where he is usually paired with Philip. Tradition says that after the resurrection, he preached the faith inArabia. Other traditions say that he was martyred inArmenia. Still other traditions locate the field of his apostolic mission in the west coast of India, to which he brought the Gospel according to Matthew.
Whatever be the historical details, we owe our faith to the apostles, for as the saying goes, ‘the Church is founded on the apostles and martyrs.’ Across the ages, such brave and generous men and women left their homeland, and took the message of Jesus to foreign countries and strange cultures. If we possess the faith today, it’s because of their missionary endeavours yesterday. This is why mission or apostleship – both words have the same meaning – is an integral part of the Christian tradition.
The apostle witnesses to the Gospel by words and deeds, and often pays for it with his life. The “blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”, declared an early Christian writer, and we honour Bartholomew and thousands of men and women like him, who shed their blood so that the local church might grow and flourish.