Summary: There was no way that this group of men would ever be in the same room together, if not for Jesus. He calls us to love the people who do us wrong.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Love one another. That’s a pretty tall order that Jesus left his apostles to carry out. We tend to think the loving one another is pretty easy, especially when we include a cut-off line.
We love people like ourselves, and often consider those who are different as being unworthy of God’s love. Maybe worthy of God’s pity, but not the same kind of love that we’re worthy of receiving.
But God loves even the people we think least deserve it.
The apostles were a great example of the difficulties of loving one another, and Jesus knew it.
There’s a scene in the epic Franco Zefferelli movie, Jesus of Nazareth, in which Jesus arrives at the house of Matthew, the tax collector, for dinner as he told Matthew he would. Peter and the other disciples were trying to convince Jesus not to go, bringing up the arguments of that it wouldn’t look right for a rabbi to be in a sinner’s house, especially eating — sharing a meal.
Eating together was a very spiritual act; it went well beyond the notion of just nourishment. Think about our Eucharist — it is a remembrance of a meal of love offered by Jesus himself among his closest friends. Meals had deep emotional and spiritual connections among the participants.
So the other disciples did not want Jesus to mingle with the likes of Matthew, a tax collector who was banished from the temple and synagogues by the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders.
But Jesus didn’t care about appearances and besides, he came to save sinners, not the righteous.
So Peter decides not to go. He’s laying in the dark in his fishing boat by himself, feeling smug and proper for having not gone with Jesus to Matthew’s house. Then he gets the urge to follow after Jesus, and stands in the courtyard, his distaste for the celebration at Matthew’s house is clearly visible in the expression on his face.
There’s a huge party going on, and Jesus is sitting in the middle of the room. Someone calls out, “Teacher, tell us a story.”
So Jesus looks over at Matthew, his newest disciple, and over to Peter, who is now standing outside the doorway looking in. And Jesus starts telling the story of the Prodigal Son.
It the story of a young man who asks for his share of his father’s inheritance early, and go away and splurges all his money on debauchery. When he comes to his senses and returns home to his father, he is welcomed with open arms by the father, but his brother is offended by his father having anything to do with this son, much less throwing him such a lavish party.
But the father tells the complaining son that they had to celebrate, because his brother was lost but is now found, was dead but now lives.
As Jesus says those words, he’s staring directly at Peter. Tears fill Peter’s eyes and he comes into Matthew’s house to join the party.
The apostles were a ragtag group, or motley crew, of various social levels and lifestyle. At least a third of them were fishermen, not the most educated group of men. There was a tax collector, whom everyone in town hated. Tax collection was a bit different back then. People bought the position of tax collector from the Roman in charge of the region for a fee based on the population and what Rome expected in taxes for each person.
The tax collector was then free to extract as much from the population as he thought he could get away with, usually much more than he had paid for the position. And for a Jew to be helping the Romans was an abomination to them. One of the other apostles, named Simon, was a zealot — the political group that wanted the Romans out of Israel immediately if not sooner. The zealots would stab a Roman soldier in the market place just to create mayhem.
The other groups wanted to keep the status quo and get the Romans to leave eventually and peacefully. The rest of the apostles were working-class folks from various levels.
Only a miracle could get this group of people playing well together. Jesus was not being facetious when he said “everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” There was no way that this group of men would ever be in the same room together, if not for Jesus. He calls us to love each other, not just the people we already like. He calls us to love the people who do us wrong. The people that the world tells us we should hate Jesus tells us to love.