by The Rev. Dustin L. Anderson
Gospel: Luke 22:24-30
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“Beaten with rods, flayed like a fish and then crucified upside down.” This was the fate of St. Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael. He is among the lesser-known disciples. In fact the story of his martyrdom is one of tradition. It is a tradition to which we subscribe, but know full well that it is not Scripture. But what is Scripture is the Gospel appointed for this day of St. Bartholomew. And one could ask the question, “So why is this Gospel lesson chosen for him. He’s not mentioned by name. None of the disciples are mentioned by name” The answer is found when you put the story of his martyrdom and this Gospel together.
“Who is the greatest of all the disciples?” Certainly it has to be St. Peter, the confessing rock of the Church, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” No, he is not him. Remember, Jesus calls him Satan in the same conversation in which Peter confesses the truth about Jesus. And three times Peter denied his Lord, the very same night of this debate between the disciples. Certainly he’s not the greatest. If it is not Peter, how about St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved? Now there’s a man of greatness. He lived a full life, wrote an account of the Gospel of Christ and a few letters and even the Revelation of Jesus Christ. But then he died in relative obscurity off on some island called: Patmos. He didn’t become a bishop in the Church, nor did He become Pope. He just wrote a few things and then died.
Measuring greatness, from our perspective, can only occur one way – by the law. When we measure the greatness of, say, an athlete we measure using an established scoring system or standard. Now regardless of how you feel about the standard or those enforcing the standard at the time of competition, the standard is the law. In a race the standard is time. In a game it’s the score. The one who fulfills the standard best wins, and therefore is the greatest until another challenges and conquers. Now, when measuring those who are greatest over time. We use other standards, such as championships, gold medals, and records broken and held. With this standard in mind we can ask, “who is better, the Vikings or the Bears?” And I will have to concede: the Bears. I cannot deny that the Vikings choked 4 times in the big bowl. But the standard, the law will let us know in the end.
In our own lives we measure our greatness in much the same way. We are greater or less than another based on what we’ve done or who we are. Mr. Jones is better than Mr. O’Brien because he makes more money, lives on the right side of the tracks, has a trophy wife who still lives with him and has been a member of his church his entire life. The list can and does go on. The list of measures can and is any number of things; things we inherit and things we work for, but in the end they are all to be considered works or merits. They are the things we turn to, to find our place at the table of life. This will not do. Repent.
The greatest among the disciples doesn’t participate in their foolish conversation. Jesus is infinitely greater than any of the disciples sitting at their table. In fact, Jesus is perfect in every way. No one can ever match Him in greatness. He keeps every jot and tittle of the Word of God, and always will. He is victorious and no one can defeat Him, not even death itself.
Immediately preceding this selfish conversation between the disciples, the greatness of God in the flesh is manifested to them, given to them. What had just happened to them appeared to have had no effect on them, but that would change. They had just received the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood. They had just received Jesus into their mouths. They had, placed on their tongues, the greatest of all – God Himself. The one thing that worth talking about among themselves, Jesus in them, was absent from the conversation. They cared only on themselves. We are no different in our conversations. Repent.
Your greatness is given to you. It is branded upon your forehead with water and Word. It is stuck in your ears through preaching. It is seared onto your tongues with Body and Blood in, with and under bread and wine. You are made to be great. You are given the gift of greatness by God through the simple means of His choosing. And they are given from the hand of sinful men. A man made great by the gift given.
St. Bartholomew was great among the disciples, but his greatness was not because of his horrific and senseless execution. His greatness was found not in what he did in his life or even how he died. Those are the things we would see and judge by. His greatness, however unseen it is, was found in what Jesus had given to him and all the disciples those three years as they sat at His feet. St. Bartholomew’s greatness was because on that night in which Jesus was betrayed He took bread and wine, and gave to them His body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. His greatness was because of the Word in which he believed and preached. His greatness was because of Jesus, who in His greatness came down from heaven and walked, talked and died among us. Jesus was given to St. Bartholomew and with Jesus came the forgiveness of sins, which was purchase by His innocent suffering and death on the cross; that forgiveness forgave when St. Bartholomew and all the disciples thought of only themselves; When they thought about what they had done and who they were. Jesus forgave them. He does the same for you.
Jesus is your greatness. He is given to you, and carrying with Him He brings all His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. No matter how horrible your life may be, having been beaten by the assaults of the devil, stripped of your skin, your reputation, by this dark world and dying in this rotting flesh, He will never leave you or forsake you. He cannot and will not be taken from you. This confidence is the example of St. Bartholomew and all the martyrs. Their hope and peace, as well as yours, is not found in the disciples themselves and their perceived greatness, but rather outside them in Him who is great for them – Jesus. In Him you suffer loss and pain, but your loss and pain is not endured alone. Your great champion over death and the grave is with you. He is yours. Not even death will rend us from Him. He is our greatness.
+ In Jesus’ Name + Amen.
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