Summary: what does it take to be disciples of Christ; Jesus call to discipleship; who were the twelve Apostles
Today’s scripture continues the great commissioning of the disciples which started with last week’s gospel reading. Jesus had been traveling through the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, healing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He quickly realized that there was much more work to be done than He could accomplish by himself – that He would need help. So He began to select his apostles. The word ‘apostle’ in Greek may be translated as ‘sent ones’. These apostles He selected followed Him, watched him preach and teach, heard his parables and tried to become prepared to help Jesus with his work – sort of like a ‘disciple school’. [They were now prepared to proclaim and spread the good news, just as Jesus had done.]
It is important to notice that Jesus called all sorts of people – you didn’t have to be as pure as driven snow. None of these men were born leaders, highly schooled, or well-positioned in the synagogue. And although Matthew does not tell us this, we also know from other scriptures that Jesus called women to be disciples. None of his followers had training to heal or preach before they met Jesus; none would have been considered persons headed for sainthood or martyrdom. But they dropped their nets, left their jobs and families and followed Jesus without looking back. What a motley crew they must have been. Scripture tells us that they didn’t even get along with each other; there was all kind of jockeying to be Jesus’ favorite. Some mothers even got into the act.
Let me remind you who they were:
Simon Peter, a fisherman, became the spokesperson for the group, although his impetuousness often got him in trouble. Although his faith always seemed to go from strong to doubt (remember he denied Jesus three times and almost drowned while trying to walk on water), Jesus called him ‘the rock’ on which the church would be founded. He spent his life after Jesus’ death evangelizing and eventually ended up in Rome and was crucified upside down for his faith.
Andrew, also was a fisherman and the brother of Peter, stopped following John the Baptist to join Jesus. Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus, letting him step into the limelight as the apostles taught and converted people. He spent his life bringing people to Jesus and like so many of Jesus’ followers he was killed because he preached the gospel. History suggests that he was crucified on a cross shaped like an ‘X’.
James was one of the fisherman sons of Zebedee who followed Jesus. He is often called ‘James the Greater’ to distinguish him from the other apostle James. He and his brother John were known as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their loud voices and desire to punish anyone who slighted Jesus. James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred, killed with the sword on orders of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D.
John, the brother of James and also a fisherman, was called ‘the apostle that Jesus loved’. John obviously was one of Jesus’ favorites because he entrusted his mother, Mary, to him at his crucifixion. John is credited with writing the gospel of John, first, second and third John, and the book of Revelation. John continued to teach and preach against heresy until he died of old age, the only apostle who did not die for his faith.
Philip was one of the first apostles to be called, having left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. And he wasted no time calling others, like Nathanael, to do the same. Although little is known about him after the ascension of Christ, Bible historians believe Philip preached the gospel in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and died a martyr there at Hierapolis
Nathanael is thought to have been known as Bartholomew, who was introduced to Jesus by Philip and immediately recognized him as the Son of God. Although little is known about Bartholomew, legend has it that he preached in India and was crucified upside down.
Levi, who became the Apostle Matthew, was a customs official in Capernaum who taxed imports and exports based on his own judgment. The Jews hated him because he worked for Rome and betrayed his countrymen. But when Jesus said ‘follow me’, he did and became the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Legend has it that he traveled to Ethiopia and was martyred there.
Thomas, who we all know as ‘Doubting Thomas’ spread the gospel to the east after the death of Jesus and was martyred.
James the Less, son of Alphaeus, was called ‘the less’ to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee. He is the least known of all the apostles – he is only mentioned with all the other apostles in the Upper Room.