by Fr. Tommy Lane
What a motley bunch they were, those Twelve whom Jesus called.
Jesus chose Peter. Peter later denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest (Matt 26:69-75). He wasn’t faithful. He lacked the courage to take a stand in public. Also he was impetuous and would say and do things without thinking.
Jesus chose Andrew, Peter’s brother. In John 6:9, before the multiplication of the loaves and fish Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Andrew would still have much to learn about Jesus.
Jesus called James and John. They were in a boat mending nets with their father Zebedee. Immediately they left everything and followed Jesus leaving their father in the boat. (Matt 4:21) But we discover later they were following Jesus for the wrong reason, they were looking for their own glory. In Ireland we have a way of saying that, they were only in it for the beer. In Mark 10:35 they ask Jesus, “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus didn’t say he would, he just asked them what they wanted. And then they made their big request, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” What confidence they had. And there was the time (Luke 9:53) when the Samaritans did not welcome the visitors Jesus sent ahead and James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” It is no wonder that they were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder.” (Mark 3:17)
Jesus called Bartholomew but we know no more about him. He is mentioned as one of the Twelve but we are not told anything he said or did. (Matt 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13) Perhaps he was a timid man of few words who struggled to overcome shyness.
Jesus called Matthew (Matt 9:9). Matthew had a past, he was a tax-collector before Jesus called him. If he was like any of the other tax-collectors he would have collected a lot more in taxes from people than he returned to Rome. We can guess that Matthew would have had enemies, many of them.
Jesus called Thomas. But he would only believe in the resurrection of Jesus if he could put his fingers into the wounds the nails made and put his hand into Jesus’ side. (John 20:25) Thomas lacked faith. Where was Thomas on that first Easter Sunday evening? Why wasn’t he with the other apostles?
Jesus called Simon the Zealot. (Luke 6:15) Zealots wanted to achieve Palestinian independence from Roman occupation using military means. Simon did not know that violence achieves nothing but only encourages more violence. He would have much to learn.
Jesus called Judas Iscariot. He later plotted behind Jesus’ back. (Matt 26:14-15) He wanted to force Jesus to bring about his kingdom. He wanted the kingdom on his terms instead of Jesus’ terms. He complained when Jesus’ feet were anointed not because he wanted to give that money to the poor but so that he could steal it for himself. (John 12:4-6)
Apart from Judas they became great men of God. Peter went as far as Rome and accepted crucifixion upside down near where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands. We know the pious stories about the martyrdoms of the other apostles but it is difficult to know how many of the details are correct. Andrew is said to have been crucified in Edessa. Bartholomew and Thomas are said to have been martyred in India. And there is a similar story for all the other apostles. Luke tells us that Jesus spent the whole night in prayer to God before choosing the twelve. (Luke 6:12-13) Surely it was the prayer of Jesus for these men that helped them to become great. On other occasions Jesus prayed for his apostles. We can think of John 17. We can also think of the Last Supper in Luke where Jesus said, “Simon, Simon behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Today Jesus calls us. Like Peter we lack faith. Like Andrew we have much to learn. Like James and John we are selfish sometimes. Like Matthew we have a past. Like Thomas we doubt sometimes. Seeing that the apostles of limited competence did so much for the Church gives confidence to us. If Jesus could use them he can certainly use us. With the intercession of Jesus for us at the right hand of the Father and by our spending time in prayer with the Lord we too can grow from strength to strength and accomplish great things for God and his kingdom.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2004