April 29, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: He calls his Apostles

See Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16

Up to this time, we have met seven of Jesus’ disciples—Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Nathanael and Matthew. Now he decided the time had come to choose the men who would be the foundation on which his Church would be built, as Paul said in his Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:20).

This was an important decision so Jesus first spent the night in prayer, asking for his Father’s guidance. As a human being, he needed divine guidance just as we do. The Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed frequently, but especially before important events.

By this time many men had become his followers. Did he conduct job interviews among them before making his decision? Did he give them psychological tests? Or did he simply talk informally with many of them as they walked from place to place, getting to know them better? What qualities was he looking for? Couldn’t he have found more intelligent, charismatic or dynamic men than those he eventually chose? They were not very impressive. In fact, the Jewish leaders “perceived them as uneducated, ordinary men” (see Acts 4:13).

We know little about most of the 12 men he chose. Peter, Andrew, James and John, of course, were fishermen, and Matthew had been a tax collector. Peter’s personality comes through the Gospels more than any of the others; he was clearly their leader. Jesus called James and John “sons of thunder,” which probably shows their personality.

The others were Philip and Nathanael, now called Bartholomew; Thomas, whose name meant “twin,” but we don’t know whose twin he was; James, the son of Alphaeus, to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee; Simon, called a Zealot, but we don’t know exactly what that meant; Judas or Thaddeus, now usually referred to as St. Jude; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Why on earth would Jesus choose Judas Iscariot, the man from Kerioth, which is what Iscariot means? Didn’t Jesus know what kind of man Judas was? And if he knew that Judas was a thief, why did Jesus put him in charge of the group’s common purse? Wouldn’t the former tax collector be better at handling money? Or did Jesus think that might lead Matthew into temptation, thinking that he was entitled to a “commission”?

Probably, Jesus’ decision to include Judas was an answer to his prayers. Since it was God’s will that Jesus was to be betrayed, scourged and crucified in order to redeem the world, the Holy Spirit inspired Jesus to add his future betrayer to the group.

Jesus named these 12 men “apostles,” which means “sent,” but they are called that only once in Matthew’s Gospel, twice in Mark’s, five times in Luke’s and never in John’s. They were usually known as the Twelve. That number was important. It was the same number as Jacob’s sons. They were to be the foundation of Jesus’ kingdom on earth just as Jacob’s sons were the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. †

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