Some of you may know that I really loved a recent movie called Risen.
One thing I noticed while looking at reviews, was that Christians were consistently insulted over the portrayal of Bartholomew, believing that the filmmakers were trying to mock Christians and even worse, perceiving his character as a fool.
So I decided to write this post to try to explain my perception of Bartholomew.
I believe one of the number one problems people have with Bartholomew’s portrayal is the following.
Consistently and persistently cheerful people are always perceived as stupid.
Why? I believe that cheerful people make people feel guilty, they are a reminder to unhappy people of the behavior that they are not exhibiting.
The truth is this. Cheerful people aren’t too stupid to know any better. They actually know something others don’t know. Cheerful people cast light on people that rebelliously choose to be miserable when they ought to be rejoicing. Thus, to remove the heat, people dismiss them as fools who are too dumb to know what life is ‘really like’. On the contrary, cheerful people do know what life is like, more clearly than unhappy people, because they are focused on either the big picture, or the minutiae of the moment in front of them. They have a divine gift of being able to look at a hard life and know that it is better to carry a light heart than tons of baggage and that in the light of eternity—most of the things that keep us from being cheerful are not really important.
Problem number two:
Christians have a weakness, they keep looking for perfection on earth. Christians have a tendency to believe that the more like Jesus we become, the less we will be like ourselves. It is in fact the opposite. The more we are like Jesus, the more our true essence will be released.
Christians want to portray the disciples as identical saints in matching white robes, but the truth is the disciples were just men like everybody else. And in the case of Risen, Christians ought to really examine themselves, because non-believing Gentile filmmakers might be more honest than we are with the portrayal of the God’s people.
Bartholomew and Peter were the two disciples that the filmmakers decided to focus on for this film and they went to great lengths to show their individuality, to show that they are ‘just men’. One of them is a happy-go-lucky person and the other is a serious individual.
So let’s take these too characters to demonstrate how God increases the personalities that are already there. Bartholomew was probably naturally a buoyant and positive person and Peter was naturally an intense and analytical person. When Christ comes into their lives, those traits are doubled, not diminished. They are refined, by being put in a constant revolution around the hub of truth—Christ. Those traits are now focused on God, and thus they expand. Bartholomew is twice as joyful, twice as hopeful—Peter is twice as passionate, twice as wise.
There is a largess about God that Christians have difficulty accepting. They focus on the buffing (the rough edges that God must sand away) instead of the enlargement. It’s like people worrying about workmen ripping up a dirty old carpet in order to build a brand new room. They focus on the God who ‘comes to take away’, instead of the God ‘who comes to give’.
God came to make sons, not robots—he delights in individualities, just as an artist rejoices in every brushstroke of a painting.
And now—let’s break down Bartholomew, scene by scene.
Bartholomew Is Not Stupid:
Do you really think you could live with Christ, see Him die, then rise from the dead, proclaimed as the Son of God and be normal? Bartholomew is giddy, he is unable to suppress his joy. Giddy: to make (someone) feel excited to the point of disorientation.
Because Bartholomew stutters somewhat incoherently about what he has seen—he is perceived as either simple minded or brain damaged.
But Bartholomew has been a front row witness to something the world has been anticipating for centuries. He has seen the world change before his eyes—death has been overthrown, the Messiah has come. If that doesn’t make you irrepressibly giddy, I don’t know what will.
Simply because he has an ear to ear grin on his face, Bartholomew is perceived as stupid. As if Christians weren’t supposed to be happy!! Why shouldn’t Bartholomew smile? His Master was and is the Son of God. As he says himself: “This. Changes. Everything.”
Christians praying in tongues after the Pentecost were considered drunk, and there is an emotion when one is filled with God’s Spirit that could be perceived as ‘drunkenness’, because the person has so little thought or control over themselves. They are too taken up with an all-encompassing euphoria—in this case, Christ. They are ‘drunk on Christ’.
Bartholomew even admits that he looks and sounds crazy. “God?” The Roman soldier snarls. “God manifests himself in a crazy, poor, dead Jew?” Bartholomew laughs—he understands how ludicrous it sounds, he knows it’s ludicrous (it is beyond all human reasoning and understanding) and he embraces the insanity of truth. “So it appears,” Bartholomew responds to the Roman with another joyful smile.
Bartholomew actually does drop pearls of wisdom and exhibits a mature Christian attitude, but it is MISSED by the undiscerning Clavius (and some of the movie’s audience) simply because he has a happy grin on his face. When Clavius challenges him to conjure Christ up to prove that he is risen, Bartholomew smiles gently and shakes his head: “God is not at my beck and call.” A simple statement, filled with so much wisdom. Bartholomew is a humble man, and he is also a kind man, he is not angered by Clavius’ irreverence, he knows the man can’t help his darkened mind and he tries to explain Clavius’ mistake simply, in terms he can understand.
Bartholomew also reveals his great faith. When Clavius asks him ‘How many are you?” Bartholomew responds. “Well, we are few . . . for now.” His faith is great, even in the odds of adversity, even though this is the craziest thing that has ever happened in this world, he believes that God will multiple their numbers.
Bartholomew even calls Clavius on the carpet. When the Roman asks him what the Christians intentions are, Bartholomew asks him: “Why do you fear Him so?” But instead of approaching him in a dogmatic ‘you’re wrong’ fashion (as many Christians are prone to do) Bartholomew’s tone and manner are utterly non-offensive, removing the barb from his comment.
Bartholomew was wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. He can laugh at the darkened reasoning of the unbeliever, rejoicing that he no longer reasons in that darkness.
As he dances out of the fort, he doesn’t leave worries behind him. He has given his witness, and the rest is in God’s hands. He is not responsible for Clavius. All he has to focus on is how Jesus snatched him out of the fire. That is his immediate work, to thank God and to be glad. Bartholomew is very focused on the present moment—which is what God focuses on and what He wishes us to focus on.
Bartholomew Is Not A Coward:
As the soldiers break down a door and demand of the crowd within which one is Bartholomew, Bartholomew leaps to his feet without hesitation and says: “I am he.”
Bartholmew’s faith in Jesus is so great, that when Clavius asks him if he wants to be executed, he kneels and says he will gladly submit to death.
Now this line, at first, seems inconsistent with the next moment.
As Clavius threatens Bartholomew with torture and execution, describing Jesus’ death in detail, Bartholomew’s countenance falters. At first this scene puzzled me—was he afraid?—until someone pointed out that Bartholomew wasn’t afraid at all. Note that this moment begins when Clavius maliciously points out that he didn’t see Bartholomew at the Crucifixion, because ‘he ran’. It is then that Bartholomew’s expression falters. He is filled with horror as he thinks about what happened to Jesus, and how he is guilty because he abandoned Jesus to that fate. Bartholomew isn’t thinking about his safety at all, he is conscience-stricken over a past deed. Bartholomew is not a coward at all.
Bartholmew’s Unique Gifts:
Contrary to public opinion, naturally cheerful people do struggle with negative emotions—they experience sorrow, pain and guilt just like everyone else, but they make a choice to exhibit cheerfulness. Bartholomew‘s joy is shaken when Clavius taunts him about his abandonment of Jesus. We can see him slipping away from the hope of Christ. Then we see Bartholomew visibly making a choice. His head comes up, the gleam returns. He remembers that Jesus died and rose—for him. Past mistakes cannot be reversed, but the consequences have been changed. Bartholomew gets his thinking back on the right track—back to Jesus—and his joy is renewed.
Bartholomew might seem like he is living on another planet, but he is very much aware of how his world works and instead of eclipsing himself from that world, he works with it. He knows how unbelievers think and reason and he exhibits his enlightened mind once again by twisting the Roman’s own words to secure his freedom—and slipping in one last declaration of truth at the same time. And the way that he does it is hilarious. Bartholomew has embraced the ludicrous again, his euphoria bubbles forth again—even he can barely believe the truth.
Bartholomew is not an articulate speaker, he doesn’t use brilliant arguments to debunk Clavius’ erroneous reasoning, he doesn’t have a Bible verse to back up everything he says, he merely relates with sincerity what Jesus has done for him.
He doesn’t have to use fine words – he is a vessel for what Clavius has never had or even glimpsed—a brilliant, triumphant joy. A grim and fallen world has no idea what this is, and this is enough to arouse Clavius’ interest. This is so unique, Clavius knows this is different, he knows it is ‘unnatural’ and he is drawn towards the warm flame of Bartholomew’s peace.
All Bartholomew has to do is be a consistent vessel of that joy and let his light shine.
As one man once said: “God doesn’t need a defense attorney, He needs a witness.” Bartholomew, in his simple words and consistent joy, is a faithful witness.
And he just as faithfully uses his gift and calling throughout the movie.
Bartholomew is an exhorter.
When Clavius is sitting shocked and defeated in the upper room with Jesus and the disciples, it is Bartholomew who goes over to sit with him. Bartholomew extends the hand of brotherhood and acceptance to a man that had previously wished to kill them. Bartholomew is the fragrance of life to this man with his consistent love for the people around him.
While on the beach at Galilee, we see several disciples witnessing to citizens before they depart. I noticed that Bartholomew was not teaching or preaching, he was holding the belongings of another disciple, watching, and when the disciple finished, he encouraged him in what he had said.
Bartholomew is a renewer, a refresher—he was not designed to stand on street corners and evangelize—exhorters are not preachers or evangelists. Bartholomew is predominately for the Church, but as he goes about his business, exhorting and loving God’s lambs, many a non-believer might follow this joyful person into God’s fold—with very little effort on Bartholomew’s part, because God has given him a charisma as powerful as the Pied Piper.
Bartholomew does not have to be a great speaker or harass people into the kingdom, he merely has to rejoice in his share of the kingdom, and let that joy shine.
I looked at that character on the screen and understood—because I saw myself.
Bartholomew reacted in the same way I would have reacted in that situation. I am a Bartholomew.
Other Christians have tried to shame me into being something I’m not—twisting scripture to tell me I ought to be able to defend my faith or my convictions with perfect arguments with each point validated by an appropriate Bible verse. Other people might perceive me as immature, foolish, or even out of touch with reality.
But it doesn’t matter.
I know who I am, and more importantly, God sees me, far better than I see myself – and His directive is plain. I must share the joy He has made me a custodian of freely, but guard it fiercely, never letting anyone take it away from me . . . for it is the bread I cast upon the waters.
And I trust the Lord to return it to me.
And last of all, I leave you with this opening scene of Bartholomew. I hope that people who have seen Risen will watch it with fresh eyes.
I hope that people who can relate to Bartholomew have been encouraged to hold onto their joy.
I hope that people who are different from Bartholomew are not discouraged, but encouraged to accept happy people for who they are and accept their gift of joy just as we eagerly learn to accept your own God-given gifts.
All the threads in a tapestry cannot be the same, otherwise we would not have a beautiful picture.