Bible Verse of the Day

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Twelve (12) to start…


As loyal followers, the disciples shared Christ’s hardships and dangers to become missionaries of the message which would change the world...
“Follow me!” The terse command was uttered by a passing stranger. Matthew, the tax collector, looked up and left his cluttered table. He asked no questions, made no stipulations. Yet he knew - as did the others who were called - that this would be a bond that only death could sever.


Thus Jesus, at the outset of His ministry, handpicked twelve disciples to share the hardships of His brief career, to hear His teachings and receive the faith. Who were these men? Although cathedrals have been raised to glorify their names and legend has spun golden webs around them, we don’t know much of their lives. We tend to overlook these flesh-and-blood personalities who stood at His side. Ranging in temperament from the rough-edged impetuosity of Simon Peter to the cool rationality of Philip, they formed one close-knit brotherhood - a body that drew its nourishment from Christ: “I am the vine, ye are the branches.”


There was nothing unusual in the fact that a wandering preacher chose disciples. Jewish prophets, such as Isaiah, had been accompanied by loyal followers, and rabbis had disciples in the time of Christ: The custom is still practised today among religious men in India. But acceptance of Christ’s call had to be total and immediate. It meant forsaking ‘houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or property.’
It was from the villages near the north end of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus recruited His first disciples, the two pairs of brothers who were to be the nucleus of the group: Andrew and Simon Peter (the sons of Jona), and James and John (the Sons of Zebedee). Other disciples were soon added - one traditional source fills out the roster with these names: Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (or Levi), Thaddeus, James the son of Alphaeus, another Simon called ‘the Zealot,’ Thomas ‘the Twin’ and Judas Iscariot. (The explanation of Mark and Luke we’ll leave for another time)
Why twelve? Jesus wanted His men to represent the twelve tribes of their people; to be, in spirit, the ‘new Israel.’ Besides, twelve was mystic number, suggestive of the lunar cycle and the hours of the day. Except for John, who was younger, the Twelve were vigorous men in their prime - toughened by outdoor life and the sharp contrasts of the local climate. Since the mission of Jesus was so largely one of solace to the poor, His disciples came, for the most part, from the more modest levels of society.

Four were fishermen. Jesus would turn them all, by and by, into “fishers of men.” Bearded and sandal-shod, dressed in coarsely woven robes and flowing head-dresses, the Twelve looked much like the wandering Bedouins one still encounters in the Galilean hills. While two of them - Matthew and John - were to write Gospels, and others left us dictated or penned epistles, few had much formal education. Their mother tongue, like that of Christ, was Aramaic, a Semitic language.
One would hardly do them justice by imagining their discipleship as one continuous, lofty Passion play. Between the great occasions recorded in the Gospels, life went on. There were, no doubt, the rough camaraderie and banter of the open trail. There were personal friendships, and there was an occasional quarrel. When the mother of James and John begs Jesus, with her sons’ accord, to place them closest to Him in the coming kingdom, the other ten are “moved with indignation,” and Jesus has to smooth their ruffled feelings by telling them that any of His men who want to be “the chiefest” must be “servant of all.”
The 13 men travelled over the Galilean countryside, bringing their message to the villages. One or two disciples might be sent ahead to prepare the way for their Master’s arrival. They had no abode - “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” - but night quarters were rarely, a problem. They slept in caves or sheltered places or, with some luck, in a friendly home, such as the one belonging to the bustling, hospitable Martha.
As word of Jesus fame spread throughout the land, crowds would gather wherever He appeared, sometimes leaving the group “no leisure so much as to eat.” Once, when the Lord had slipped away long before dawn to pray alone, a search party headed by Peter came panting after Him: “All men seek for thee.” 
To judge by the reaction of the crowds - one woman cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee” - the impact of Christ’s personality was overwhelming. His irresistible magnetism and natural authority, made even more compelling by His simple manner, shine clearly through the Gospel narratives.
As the Twelve shared the intimacy of Christ’s daily life, conversing with Him during the long cross-country walks or around the camp-fire, they were exposed to a tremendous force. Almost imperceptibly, their minds were moulded. But if the Lord gave fully of Himself, He, too, received. In His unfathomable isolation, their warm, intensely human presence must have been a comfort. “Henceforth I call you not servants,” He once said to them, “for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends.” When many of His other followers began to drift away, He asks, “Will ye also go away?” and we feel there is something close to anguish in the question.
Considerable courage was required of the Twelve. Jesus insisted that, at intervals, they go and face an audience on their own, in preparation for their future role of missionaries and preachers. He knew the risks: “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” No doubt they got themselves into tight spots. Probably they were beaten or stoned by villagers who viewed them with suspicion or hatred. Yet with the blows came experience. Slowly and painfully, the disciples were becoming true Apostles (the Greek apostolos means “one sent out”), hardy paladins (paragons of chivalry, heroic champions) who - with one notable exception - would continue Jesus’ apostolate after His death and, in the face of overwhelming dangers, change the world.
Yet, while the Lord was with them, even the most perceptive of the Twelve never quite grasped the meaning of His mission. The Twelve, one must remember, had been brought up in the Hebrew tradition of a Messianic hope. Frustrated by Rome’s dominion over their beloved country, they saw in Christ the “king” who would deliver Israel from the hated conqueror. That the Messiah would redeem the world by suffering an ignominious death eluded them. When He rides into Jerusalem in triumph, they are jubilant - for the wrong reason! John, who was one of them, shamefacedly recalls that the disciples “understood not.”
Clashes between Christ and the local power structure - the Pharisees and Scribes - became more violent as time went on. Christ had warned the Twelve, “Men shall revile you, and persecute you… for my sake.” “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of.” Now, hinting for the first time at the shape of things to come, He startles them by asking, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” From then on, premonitions of treachery are scattered throughout the Gospel, and Judas finally emerges as the villain. We learn in the Bible that Judas served as the treasurer of the group, and that he asked the priests, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” But, if greed was the motive for the betrayal, was 30 shekels enough blood money? Or was this meant as a down payment on a larger sum? We are left for ever guessing.
“My time,” says Jesus “is at hand.” It is the Passover. An upper room has been prepared in a rich man’s house on the green edges of Jerusalem. As they are finishing the paschal meal of bread, fish, lamb and wine, Christ, in a gesture of supreme humility and love, washes the feet of the disciples. Then, sorrowful and calm, He speaks the momentous words, “One of you shall betray me.” After the uproar of shocked, startled voices, Judas slinks out.
John records in the Fourth Gospel the prayer with which the Lord, at the Last Supper, commended those that remained to His Father. In all of the New Testament, there is no loftier expression of the love the Master cherished for His men: “Father, I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest me… I pray for them… While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy name... and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition… And now come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves… Keep them from the evil… Sanctify them through Thy truth.”
We glimpse Christ now “troubled in spirit,” as one condemned to death. As if to compound the terror of His human situation, the structure of His earthly life comes crashing down around him. The sons of Zebedee, and Peter, the intimates whom He has taken with Him to the garden to comfort Him during His agony, fail Him and go to sleep. Hours later, Peter denies three times that he has even known Him! Christ’s loneliness seems devastatingly complete.
Yet, having loved His men in the eventful days of action, He “loved them unto the end.” When dying on the cross, He finds this love rewarded. For John is there; and it is to this fearless young disciple that He entrusts His mother, Mary, to honour her as a son. The final human link has thus been forged, for the disciples have become the Lord’s own family. Eleven sheep without their shepherd - what is to become of them? The Acts of the Apostles relates how the disciples, after Christ’s Ascension, gathered in Jerusalem and chose a twelfth man, Matthias, to fill the place of Judas. They knew that what had happened had not been an end, but a beginning. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they now gave witness of their Master’s life and resurrection, preaching the Gospel “to every creature.”

James, son of Zebedee, was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom, on the orders of King Herod. Peter journeyed to Rome, where he is believed to have been crucified by the Emperor Nero. Tradition suggests that nearly all the brethren “drank of the cup” of which their Lord had drunk, fulfilling in triumphant death the terms of their commission. A dozen men, chosen seemingly at random, thus came to constitute the living link between Christ and Christianity. Their victory overcame the world. Within three and a half centuries, the mighty Roman Empire itself succumbed to what Christ had started with twelve.
People – stand up and be counted! God invented time; so that everything doesn’t happen at once; and hence give you free choice. ~ SB