Jesus selects twelve apostles

Anthony Zimmerman
For Catholicmind
September 13, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him (Matt 10:1-4).

What the apostles now received from Jesus was no small gift: they were suddenly enabled to cast out devils and to heal every disease and infirmity. This has some resemblance to the golden touch of Midas. Medical students study the science of the human body and of medical therapy for a required number of years before they can be licensed for practice. Even so they cannot cure their patients with a touch of the hand and command of voice, but must diagnose the illness and then attempt to apply the correct therapy and medicine to bring about a cure. The power that Jesus gave to the apostles is quite astounding, enabling them to by-pass nature's laws to bring about healing, and to overrule the machinations of the devil and drive them out of their victims. They used these miraculous powers to convince the people that their message was true, because God gave witness to it by the miracles they worked with divine power.

Chrysostom observes that Jesus was making them "as it were a sort of tender nestlings whom He was at length leading out to fly. And for the present He makes them physicians of bodies, dispensing to them afterwards the cure of the soul, which is the principal thing" (Sermon 32). For the next three years these would be the "seminarians" traveling with Jesus and being trained by Him. Although they were all Galileans, speaking the local dialect, they had an interesting variety of gifts and tendencies. Peter was always the first to speak and take the lead. Perhaps he could use rough language. My one time pastor used to say that the Peter who cursed and swore on the night of the betrayal of Jesus, did not do it there for the first time. He also had a bravado temper, as shown when he drew his sword to strike the slave of the High Priest, Malchus by name. He cut off his right ear - not a sign of a great swordsman but of a man with a temper. James and John were likely first cousins of Jesus, whose mother Salome was a sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus. She was a schemer who attempted to have her pet boys sit one at the right of Jesus and one at the left, elbowing Peter out of the way. Time and again Jesus instructed His apostles that He had come to serve and not to rule, and that they should learn this from Him.

Thomas was a sort of loner who had separated himself from the group when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles on Easter evening. Jesus brought him back to the fold by helping to overcome his stubbornness and pride. Matthew was a tax collector, despised by other Jews, probably better educated than the rest, which might have sometimes caused problems among the twelve. Simon is elsewhere called the "Zealot." He had allied himself to the dangerous party who were ready, at the drop of the hat, to take up arms and rebel against the Roman occupation. Of Judas we know little, except that he was in charge of the money, and probably decided what they should buy for their meals, and to whom to give alms. The job proved to contribute to his undoing. Every seminary prefect of students and rector knows that educating young men to the priesthood - to be an alter Christus - is a job that requires patience, wisdom, and prayer. They look to Jesus for help, who trained the apostles to take His place after He ascended into heaven.

These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay (Matt 10:5-8).

Why should they not go to the gentiles and Samaritans? Chrysostom correctly observes that going among them would have given the Jews an excuse to blame them for breaking the Jewish taboos against associating with such, and thus for rejecting the message of the apostles. He adds that Jesus also made it clear to the apostles that, despite the ill manner of the Jews who were always bickering against Jesus, and even accusing Him of working with Beelzebub, Jesus wanted first of all to convert His fellow Jews. They were dear to Him. He was not giving up on them.

Now was the time when the apostles, who had left behind the business of fishing in the lake, would for the first time go out on their own and practice being fishers of men. These common folk, not princes of the people, not rich, not learned, would proclaim to their fellow Jews the news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We can well wonder what kind of reception they received in the towns and villages as they stood in the public square and taught as they had seen Jesus teach. By so doing they burnt the bridges behind them and committed themselves to a new state of life as apostles of Jesus.

Were they initially tongue-tied? Did they take some abuse and ridicule? Did people shake their heads and ask what has come over these Galileans? If so, the Gospel does not mention that. The apostles were perhaps happier to work miracles than to preach. The preaching may have been short, a word or two that "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," followed by the more spectacular healings: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." When the people saw that - when they themselves could come to the apostles for healing, and then bring their relatives and friends for more of the same, the apostles gained confidence and learned to do their trade with some acquired skill. They also learned that their own message to the people was of extreme value and importance, a special invitation by Christ to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The admonition given by Christ that "You received without paying, give without pay," was probably a needed instruction. Who would not be tempted to receive a bit of cash for curing all these people of their illnesses, perhaps to set prices for specific healings, and a bit more for driving out demons. Jesus would have none of that. The cures were made not primarily by the ministry of the apostles, but by Jesus Himself, who was almighty God, not in need of petty cash. By refusing all bribery, all pay, all monetary rewards, the apostles more easily kept in mind that the work of healing was not theirs, but the power in them of Jesus.

Chrysostom observes that this first sending of the apostles on mission was well timed, after they had already witnessed and gained confidence in the preaching and the miracles done by Jesus:

And mark, I pray thee, also, how well timed was the mission. For not at the beginning did He send them; but when they had enjoyed sufficiently the advantage of following Him, and had seen a dead person raised, and the sea rebuked, and devils expelled, and a paralytic new-strung, and sins remitted, and a leper cleansed, and had received a sufficient proof of His power, both by deeds and words, then He sends them forth: and not to dangerous acts, for as yet there was no danger in Palestine, but they had only to stand against evil speakings (Sermon 32).

Next, Jesus instructs the apostles to make themselves utterly dependent upon Divine Providence and the good will of the people. They were told to omit doing the ordinary things one does when preparing for a journey because their mission was urgent and there was no time to spend on trivialities.

Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town (Matt 10:9-15).

The apostles were instructed to take no money at all with them, not even for food and lodging. The bag would be for bread, but they were not to take a supply of it for the journey. They were to take pride in the mission of preaching, as a laborer that deserves a livelihood from the people. They should not even dally to obtain an extra tunic, nor sandals, nor staff, ordinary equipment of travelers. The implication was that their mission was urgent. Moreover, their poverty and simplicity should influence the common people to trust them as one of their own, and perhaps to be generous by supplying them with what they really needed. Chrysostom observes: "And you see that hereby He was answering many good purposes; first setting His disciples above suspicion; secondly, freeing them from all care, so that they might give all their leisure to the word; thirdly, teaching them His own power." Jesus was looking out for their needs, even when not accompanying them visibly.

The apostles should live a simple life, with one care in mind, namely to preach and to make their words credible. But they should not be naive. Upon entering a town or village, they should first of all make inquiries about who is worthy in it, whom they can trust, who might provide for their evident needs of food and lodging. They should not entrust themselves to just any person, but should find out beforehand who has a good repute among the citizens, who is trustworthy and hospitable. The kingdom of heaven should be noted for being constituted of honorable people who are earnest and noble of mind and heart. If the host is worthy, observes Chrysostom, "he will surely give you food; more especially when ye ask nothing beyond mere necessaries." They should not go from house to house, as though they were gourmets seeking the best food, and causing jealousies among hosts, and distractions from the work of preaching the Gospel.

Having found a worthy host, they are to salute him. This has a special meaning. They should enrich their host by giving him their peace, their bond of unity. "The twelve are conveyers of the messianic peace that restores relationship with God (cf. Isaiah 52:7). If the host accepted this peace, this birth into unity, there would be a feed-back of peace to its conveyors. Jesus had sent the apostles out deprived of everything, yet when disciples receive them into their house, they will then receive all they need. "He gave them all, by suffering them to abide in the houses of those who became disciples, and to enter therein, having nothing. For thus both themselves were freed from anxiety, and they would convince the others, that for their salvation only are they come; first by bringing in nothing with them. then by requiring no more of them than necessaries, lastly, by not entering all their houses without distinction" (Chrysostom Sermon 32).

Chrysostom next applies the example of the Gospel to the people of his day who were attending his sermons in the great church of Antioch. The first honor that people can give to their priest, he observes, is to listen to his message. After all, the message they give to you is not of their own making. It is what they themselves have received that they now give to you. Providing for their needs is one thing, but even more important is openness to their teachings. Chrysostom would personally much rather suffer shortage of food or other conveniences, than have hosts who are not receptive to the message he gives. Furthermore, the peace that the priest gives by saying "The Lord be with you" is a precious invitation by the priest to unity of mind and heart with his people. The reply "and with your spirit" is a response to this opening. Thus the early Christians become of "one mind and heart" by their gift of peace to each other.

An interesting part of Chrysostom's sermon is this next application to the treatment of slaves. Be virtuous yourselves first of all, he says, because "all men's mouths are stopped by the acquisition of virtue." In other words, no one - just no one - can speak against virtue. He continues:

Let virtue then be our study: for abundant are her riches, and great the wonder wrought in her. She bestows the true freedom, and causes the same to be discerned even in slavery, not releasing from slavery, but while men continue slaves, exhibiting them more honorable than freemen; which is much more than giving them freedom: not making the poor man rich, but while he continues poor, exhibiting him wealthier than the rich.

Treating the slaves with honor, so he exhorted, is doing more for them even than giving them freedom. So he still spoke toward the end of the fourth century when slavery was a matter-of-fact part of the social system.

Now back to the passage of Matthew's gospel. If the people to whom the apostles go reject the message of the kingdom then the peace is to be taken back. There is no peace for the wicked (cf. Isaiah 48:22; 57:21). The disciples are not to argue with those who will not accept the proclamation, but are to leave, 'Shake off the dust from off your feet' describes a common gesture of repudiation" (International Bible Commentary 1288). The punishment will be dreadful, symbolized by the destruction of the traditional sin cities.

Chrysostom points out that Christ relieved His band of apostles of fears and anxieties, enabled them to be joyful and even jubilant in their new labor, because He Himself will be the one to care for them: "Take no thought how or what ye shall speak." And thus, what seems to be very grievous and galling, this He shows to be especially light and easy for them. For nothing makes men so cheerful as being freed from anxiety and care; and especially when it is granted them, being so freed, to lack nothing, God being present, to them instead of all things" (Sermon 32).

Perhaps we sometimes pity the Pope who labors to do his tasks despite bodily infirmity, and we sympathize with the bishops and the priests who must stand up against the hostile media of our day and the all-pervading secularist culture. Yet theirs is a heavenly privilege, for Christ entrusts to them His most precious message, and makes His Personal presence to be their sweet reward. "For the Lord is my cup and my inheritance, and I shall want for nothing." Few, I believe, among the 405,000 priests of today, feel sorry that they chose this vocation to which Christ called them.