SET-2: Season of Denha
Jesus started his ministry primarily in the synagogues of Galilee, where people assembled for prayer on the Sabbath. The elite Jews, especially the Pharisees and the Scribes, questioned his progressive approach to Sabbath observance, accused him of blasphemy, and castigated him for dining with sinners. When the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus, he moved his ministry from a synagogue to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He gained wide popularity because of his miracles of healing. People from all over Galilee, Judaea, and the neighbouring regions came to him to cure and to hear his teachings of hope. Jesus used a boat for preaching to avoid being crushed by the crowd swelling around him. Besides preaching, Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. After spending a night in prayer on a mountain, he selected 12 disciples as a special team and appointed them as his apostles. Bishops are the successors of these apostles. Under their pastoral guidance in the Church, let us grow in faith and give witness to Jesus in our given situation.
The Mercy of Jesus
(Mk 3:7) Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples. A large number of people [followed] from Galilee and from Judea. (8) Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. (9) He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. (10) He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him. (11) And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” (12) He warned them sternly not to make him known.
The Mission of the Twelve
(Mk 3:13) He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. (14) He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach (15) and to have authority to drive out demons: (16) [he appointed the twelve:] Simon, whom he named Peter; (17) James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; (18) Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus; Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, (19) and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.
According to Mark, Jesus performed several miraculous healings. And since he did many of them on the Sabbath, the conservative Jews confronted him. The events prior to the section we reflect upon here are: (1) The cure of a demoniac on the Sabbath in a synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-26) which sparked his fame everywhere in Galilee (Mk 1:28). (2) The cure of the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law on the same Sabbath day (Mk 1:29-31). (3) The healing of the sick and demoniacs in the presence of all the villagers (Mk 1:32-34) the evening of the same day. (4) Jesus went to synagogues all over Galilee preaching and driving out demons (Mk 1:39). (5) The healing of a leper (Mk 1:40-45). (6) When some brought in a paralytic through an opening in the rooftop of a crowded house at Capernaum, Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic along with his healing. The Scribes accused Jesus of blasphemy for forgiving sins (Mk 2:1-12). Jesus called Levi at the customs post and dined at his house with his friends. The Scribes and the Pharisees questioned Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Mk 2:13-17). The people questioned Jesus for ignoring the non-practice of fasting by his disciples (Mk 2:1822). The Pharisees accosted Jesus for the picking of the heads of grain by his disciples who would grind and eat the same in gross violation of the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-28). While the Pharisees were critically observing Jesus, he healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath (Mk 3:1-6). This agitated them and they “went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death” (Mk 3:1-6). Though the public highly admired Jesus, the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the Herodians accused him of violating the Sabbath, for allowing his disciples to do the same, and being blasphemous. Their agitation was so high that they plotted to kill him as per the Jewish law.
The Mercy of Jesus
(Mk 3:7) Jesus and his disciples retired to the lakeside and a large crowd from Galilee followed him. A great number of people also came from Judaea.
Jesus withdrew towards the sea with his disciples.
Where was Jesus before he withdrew to the seashore? The immediate cause for this move was the assassination being planned by the Pharisees when Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath (Mk 3:1-6). Then “the Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death” (Mk 3:6). So, the location must be a centre for the Pharisees and the Herodians. Though Capernaum was the centre of Jesus’ ministry while he was in Galilee, this crisis must have occurred in Sepphoris, the provincial capital of Herod Antipas. It is about six km northwest of Nazareth, and about 25 km from the Sea of Galilee. That was a Jewish centre with many Pharisees and Herodians living there.
Jesus and the Jewish leaders differed in their views on Sabbath observance. For Jesus, all acts of mercy were part of worship, allowable on the Sabbath, and in congruence with the spirit of the Law. The leaders differed on this. To avoid confrontation with them in the early stages, when his hour had not yet come, Jesus moved out of the synagogue. This was not out of fear, but to avoid his immediate and untimely assassination in Galilee. His selfsacrifice should happen in Jerusalem, and not in Galilee. Jesus had withdrawn from public glare frequently in Mark to escape his enemies (Mk 3:7), to pray (Mk 1:12; 6:46; 14:32-33), for rest (Mk 6:31; 7:24; 7:31; 10:1), and for private confabulations with his disciples (Mk 7:17; 9:2).
Moving from place to place because of persecution was tolerable for Jesus because he did not want Christians to fight against their opponents or throw themselves unnecessarily into danger. The disciples should continue their mission rather than face untimely martyrdom. So, Jesus had advised his disciples, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another” (Mt 10:23).
Jesus withdrew towards the sea with his disciples
The sea mentioned here is the Sea of Galilee that is, in fact, a lake. Its other names are Lake of Gennesaret and Lake Tiberias.
This pear-shaped lake is the lowest freshwater lake on the Earth. It has a circumference of around 50 km with mountains around it. Its beaches and valleys with hills in the back all around made it convenient for the crowd to gather like in an amphitheatre, while Jesus preached on a boat. It provided amplifying sound effects for his speech when there were no artificial devices or gadgets for sound amplification.
Jesus withdrew towards the sea with his disciples
When Jesus became popular, he got disciples who followed him to listen to him and to witness the miracles he performed. Luke records that “a great crowd of his disciples” (Lk 6:17) followed him.
A large number of people [followed]
Though the reason for Jesus’ move from the synagogue to the lakeshore was the resentment of the Pharisees, he had the advantage of accommodating the enormous crowd on the open ground that no synagogue could contain. The Gentiles, the Publicans, and others who were ineligible, or uninterested in the synagogue service, could also meet Jesus by the lakeshore. Besides, he could avoid the disturbance of the antagonists in the synagogue.
Jesus was popular only by word of mouth what with no print or electronic media then available for publication or publicity. Ordinary people had to walk kilometres to reach Jesus. This was especially difficult for the sick and those who had to carry them. Besides the people of Galilee, many would arrive from the neighbouring cities, which Mark mentions by name. Such a flow of people shows the wide popularity Jesus had gained because of his miracles of mercy.
During the public ministry of Jesus, Palestine had three traditional regions: Galilee in the north, Judaea in the south, and Samaria in between them. Jesus’ ministry was predominantly in Galilee and Judaea. Since the conservative Jews, the Sanhedrin, and the Temple were in Judaea, Jesus’ life faced a threat there. So, he centred his ministry at Capernaum in Galilee.
Joshua had assigned Galilee to the Asher, the Naphtali, and the Zebulun tribes when the Israelites first inhabited the Promised Land. The Zebulun and the Naphtali tribes failed to expel entirely the native Canaanites when they entered the land. So, they later had Gentile influence and attacks from neighbouring Gentiles. The Assyrians conquered the land, exiled many Israelites in 733 BC, and scattered them so they would not unite for any revolt against the Assyrians. Many foreigners then settled in the land. So, Galilee became a home for mixed group of Israelites and Gentiles. Aristobulus had conquered Galilee for the Jews in 104 BC and forcibly made the inhabitants Jews through circumcision.
The name Galilee derives from the Hebrew word “galil”, that means circle. The full name was the Galilee of the Gentiles. The Gentiles lived around them as neighbours: the Phoenicians in the west, the Syrians in the north and east, and the Samaritans in the south. Since the Gentiles and Jews lived around Galilee, the Jews there were open to innovative ideas as compared to Judaea. So, Jesus had better receptivity from the Jews and the Gentiles in Galilee.
and from Judaea
Judaea is the southern region of Palestine adjoining Jerusalem, where the Jews re-inhabited after their return from Babylonian captivity. Samaria surrounded it in the North, Jordan in the east, the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the town of Beersheba in the south. When the Israelites conquered the Canaanites and settled in Palestine, it was predominantly the tribe of Judah who had settled there. Later, King David captured Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C. from the Jebusites and made it the capital of the unified 12 tribes of Israel. After his son King Solomon’s death, the northern 10 tribes separated from Judaea, even as Jerusalem continued to be the capital of Judaea. Jesus used to go to the Jerusalem Temple for feasts and preached there as well. Because of the wide popularity of Jesus, people from all over Judaea also came to Galilee to listen to him.
(8) Jerusalem, Idumea, Transjordan and from the region of Tyre and Sidon, for they had heard of all that he was doing. Hearing of what he was doing, a large number of people came to him
Jesus performed more miracles than all the previous prophets combined. They were mostly acts of mercy for the marginalized which attracted massive numbers of people to meet Jesus in person. They were eager to benefit from what he was doing and listen to his progressive ideas of hope for the less fortunate in the community.
Also from Jerusalem
Jerusalem was the capital of the united Israel and later of Judaea. The Temple was located there. The presence of the elite Jews, especially the Sanhedrin, was a hurdle for Jesus because he challenged their corruption and the undue importance they gave to the man-made traditions that were inconsistent with the genuine spirit of the precepts given by God through Moses. Mark specifies Jerusalem to highlight that even people from the Jewish headquarters of Judaea came to listen to Jesus. They had to travel around 150 km from Jerusalem to reach Capernaum.
The descendants of Esau, called Edomites, had settled in Idumea. Edom in Hebrew means red. Like Esau, who was reddish (Gen 25:25), the region they occupied had red sandstone cliffs. It was south of Judaea and the Dead Sea. During the Babylonian captivity, the Edomites occupied some areas in the south of Palestine. They mingled with the Jews and practised circumcision. King Herod the Great was a descendant of this mixed race. They also showed interest in the message and activities of Jesus. Hence, they came all the way from the south to Capernaum to listen to him.
From beyond the Jordan
Beyond Jordan means those who lived on the east side of the River Jordan across Palestine.
From the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon
Tyre and Sidon are in the north of Galilee, now in Lebanon. The inhabitants of Sidon must be the descendants of Sidon, who was the firstborn son of Canaan, the grandson of Noah (Gen 10:15). Sidon was the northern border of the ancient Canaanites (Gen 10:19). Tyre is 30 km south of Sidon on a rock island on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The name Tyre came from the Semitic word “Sister” meaning rock.
Though Joshua had allotted Tyre and Sidon also to the tribe of Asher (Josh 19:28-29) at the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites never conquered the inhabitants there (Judg 1:31-32). “So the Israelites lived in the midst of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. The Israelites married the daughters of these people, gave their own daughters in marriage to the sons of these people and served their gods” (Judg 3:5-6).
Tyre contributed supplies and personnel for the construction of David’s palace in Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:11) and for the Temple. “The Sidonians and Tyrians had brought cedar logs to David in great quantities” (1 Chr 22:4).
The Assyrians attacked the ten northern tribes of Israel around 740 B.C. and exiled them to various parts of their empire. The tribe of Asher was also among the ten lost tribes. Jeremiah (27:3-11) and Ezekiel (26:7-14) had prophesied the surrender of Tyre and Sidon to Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 13 years (585 B.C.).
After returning from the Babylonian exile, when the Jews started construction of the second Temple in Jerusalem (521-516 B.C.) under the leadership of Zerubbabel, they sought help from Tyre and Sidon for construction materials and personnel for the Temple. “They gave money to the masons and the carpenters. They also gave food, wine and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to Joppa by sea, according to the authorization of Cyrus, king of Persia” (Ezra 3:7).
The people from the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon also joined the crowd at the lakeshore of the Sea of Galilee to listen to Jesus. That might have been the reason for the Syro-Phœnician woman to seek Jesus’ help for healing her daughter (Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30). She addressed Jesus as the Son of David (Mt 15:22) professing her faith in Jesus as the Messiah. She could also be one among the crowd at the Sea of Galilee to listen to Jesus.
(9) Because of the crowd, Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him, to prevent the people from crushing him.
He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd
Some disciples of Jesus were fishermen, and the boats they had used must have been available then. So, he asked them to arrange a boat that he could use as a platform to address the vast crowd without them crushing him. He thus used a natural crowd control system that would keep the crowd at a safe distance from the speaker.
So that they would not crush him
When the crowd is too large, the sick and their helpers might worry about getting personal attention and a cure from Jesus. So, they kept pressing on him. That could have been dangerous for Jesus and the people around. The crowd might step or fall on those who were in front of them because of the wave of push coming from behind.
The primary goal of Jesus was to preach the gospel and prepare the people for the new kingdom that he was going to inaugurate on the day of Pentecost. His second priority was to help those who were in misery, making use of his divine power. Providing acts of mercy without conveying the gospel message should not be the Christian missionary goal. However, his listeners had the freedom to accept or decline his message and bear the consequences.
(10) He healed so many that all who had diseases kept pressing towards him to touch him.
He had cured many
The chief attraction for the immense crowd that came from all the neighbouring localities was Jesus’ power and willingness to heal even the incurable diseases. Nothing of the sort was ever reported before.
those who had diseases were pressing upon him to touch him
The sick were eager to get healed by Jesus. Vast crowds came even from faraway places, those sick and their families themselves vying for his attention. They tried to touch Jesus, believing they could get healed by doing so.
There were several instances when people got healed by just touching Jesus’ cloak or the hem of his garment. While Jesus was going to an official’s house to heal his daughter, a woman who had a haemorrhage going back 12 years came up behind him and touched the tassels on his cloak. “She said to herself, ‘If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured’” (Mt 9:21). She might have heard of such miracles of Jesus happening before. When she did so in secret, “Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction” (Mk 5:29). When Jesus reached Gennesaret with his disciples, the people there recognized him. “They sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed” (Mt 14:35-36; Mk 6:56).
(11) And the people who had evil spirits, whenever they saw him, would fall down before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God.”
Whenever unclean spirits saw him, they would fall down before him
The demons were bowing not to express homage to Jesus as the Son of God. They fell down because of their powerlessness in front of Jesus, and they were afraid that he might cast them out from the afflicted people. Even if the demons were the real ones, they were afraid that the Messiah might cast them out to the abyss before the appointed time (Mt 8:29) which would take place only at his Second Coming (Rev 20:1-10).
Shout, “You are the Son of God”
Though the Bible used “Son of God” only for Jesus in the strict sense, it was used also for:
1. Angels: “One day, when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6).
2. The chosen or righteous people: “The sons of God saw how beautiful the daughters of human beings were” (Gen 6:2).
3. The Nation of Israel: “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 1:1), “Thus says the LORD: Israel is my son, my firstborn” (Ex 4:22).
4. The king of Israel: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sam 7:14).
5. Those who show mercy to others: “Be like a father to orphans, and take the place of a husband to widows. Then God will call you His child” (Sir 4:10).
However, the “Son of God,” when used for Jesus, is different because he shares the essence of God from eternity. All other sons of God, like Adam, are God’s creation.
Jesus acknowledged when others called him the “Son of God.” God the Father used it for Jesus at the time of his baptism (Mk 1:11) and at the time of Transfiguration (Mk 9:7). John the Baptist (Jn 1:34), Nathanael (Jn 1:49), and Simon Peter pronounced Jesus as the Son of God (Mt 16:16). Several others also used the title “Son of God” for Jesus in the gospels: at the annunciation, the Angel Gabriel told Mary that “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they said, “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Mt 14:33). Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Martha professed her faith in Jesus, saying, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). After the crucifixion of Jesus, “The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, ‘Truly, this was the Son of God!’” (Mt 27:54; Mk 15:39). Mark begins his gospel, stating, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]” (Mk 1:1). John the Evangelist states the purpose of his gospel, saying, “But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn 20:31). After his conversion, Paul witnessed in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). Thus, several people acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son in the factual sense.
In Luke, when Jesus cast out demons in Capernaum, they shouted aloud, saying, “You are the Son of God” (Lk 4:11).
However, the “Son of God” that the demoniacs used could have a distinct sense. The secular world had used the title “son of god” for humans. At least during some period, people considered Egyptian kings and Roman emperors sons of God. Some communities considered a person with extraordinary qualities or divine power as “son of god”. The demon possessed could understand Jesus as a person of divine power because of the miracles he performed. They might have called Jesus “the Son of God” in that sense. They were afraid that the divinity of Jesus would agitate the demons in them, and that might cause more trouble for them. Theirs was not a confession of his divinity, but a rebuke to get rid of his presence.
(12) But he warned them sternly not to tell anyone who he was.
Besides this case, when Jesus was at Capernaum “demons also came out from many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Messiah” (Lk 4:41). Why did Jesus warn the demoniacs sternly not to publicize his identity as the Son of God?
1. Though Jesus did not deny others acknowledging him as the Son of God, he did prohibit the demons from doing so because their witness would be a discredit to Jesus in that it would imply that he was working with them as a team. An accusation of the Pharisees against Jesus was, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt 12:24). Besides, many of the demoniacs might not be demon-possessed but mentally imbalanced people.
2. The concept of Messiah for Jesus and the popular concept of the Messiah were different. For Jesus, the Messiah came to love, serve, and to sacrifice himself for all people so that those who believe in him and keep his commandments might attain salvation. Contrarily, the popular concept was a worldly conqueror who might lead the Israelites for their liberation from foreign rule. Jesus needed time to train his disciples and educate the public on his ministry so that they could follow him in reaching the heavenly crown through the cross of salvation. So, after major miracles, Jesus asked his beneficiaries not to publicize the favours they had received.
3. Any prior claim of messiahship could endanger the life of Jesus before his appointed time of self-sacrifice. He needed time to accomplish his mission in the world by preaching to the public and preparing his disciples to continue his mission in the world.
The Mission of the Twelve
(Mk 3:13) Then Jesus went up the mountain and called those he wanted and they came to him.
He went up the mountain
Besides going to the Temple of Jerusalem and local synagogues, Jesus used to go to the mountains for prayer (Mt 14:23, Mk 6:46, Lk 6:12, Jn 6:15). According to the Bible, a mountain was a holy place where men could meet God. The belief was that God was high up in Heaven and men could go to mountain tops to interact with God just as Moses did on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:134:30). Though Jesus preached in the synagogues and houses, on lakeshores, and from boats, he also preached atop mountains as in the case of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1).
Prominent mountains where significant events happened in the Bible are:
(1) Garden of Eden, where a river flowed down as four branches of rivers (Gen 2:10-14),
(2) Mount Ararat, where the Ark of Noah landed after the deluge (Gen 8:4) and where God made a Covenant with Noah,
(3) Mount Moriah (Gerizim), where God had asked Abraham
to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:2),
(4) Mount Sinai, where Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments,
(5) Mount Nebo (Pisgah), where Moses saw the Promised Land (Deut 34:1-4),
(6) Mount Carmel, where Prophet Elijah proved God as genuine as against Baal by calling down fire from Heaven to ignite fire on water-soaked sacrifice (1 Kings 18),
(7) Mount Zion (Jerusalem), where Solomon built the Temple,
(8) Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount,
(9) Mount Tabor (Hermon), where Jesus was transfigured,
(10) Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed before his arrest; He ascended into Heaven also from this mountain,
(11) Golgotha (Calvary), a skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem where the crucifixion of Jesus took place; His burial and resurrection took place nearby.
The selection of the twelve apostles, who were later to become the pillars of the Church and Jesus’ emissaries, was a crucial event in the ministry of Jesus. Hence, he chose an isolated and holy place for it. Luke documents the spiritual preparation Jesus had in doing so. “He departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles” (Lk 6:12-13).
Summoned those whom he wanted
Out of the 72 disciples Jesus had previously chosen, he selected 12 whom he wanted to accompany him full-time (Lk 8:1), to learn from him, to become eyewitnesses of his miracles of mercy and glory, to gain personal experience through practical training to preach, heal, and cast out demons (Mt 10:1-15, Mk 6:7-13), and later to continue his mission throughout the world. So, this was a second selection and direct call after the primary training and evaluation. Though others might have wished for such a position, the selection was of Jesus’ choosing and not of the disciples – “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (Jn 15:16). So, a ministry in the Church is God’s call and not one’s own selection of a profession for a means of living.
The disciples whom Jesus selected as apostles were simple, ordinary, traditionally perfidious, and mostly illiterate people. He selected the weak and the open-minded, trained them in theory and practice, and shared his miraculous power with them. Matthew was a tax-collector and so an outlaw. Simon the Zealot was the member of a revolutionary group that was fighting for the nationalism of the Israelites. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. The apostles had weaknesses and failures and competed for higher positions before they received the Holy Spirit. Judas Iscariot became selfish and betrayed Jesus.
They came to him
When Jesus selected the 12 from among his disciples, they responded positively to their call by leaving others behind and reaching towards him. They had vast scopes for worldly achievements to lose by opting to follow the master. Like Jesus, they left homes, families, and sources of income (Mt 19:27, Lk 18:28). Having given up their houses, Jesus and his apostles had no place of residence of their own. When a Scribe approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Mt 8:1920, Lk 9:57-58). Because of giving up their professions, they had to depend on the largesse of others, including devoted women, for food and other means (Lk 8:3).
(14) So he appointed twelve, whom he called apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach.
He appointed twelve
Jesus had appointed seventy[-two] disciples “whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit (Lk 10:1). Out of these primarily trained disciples, Jesus selected and appointed 12 as a special group. Though Jesus sent the apostles to preach and to perform miracles during his public ministry, it was for their pastoral training under his supervision. “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught” (Mk 6:30). Thus, they gave feedback to Jesus and received corrections from him. Their ordination took place only after Judas dropped out of the College of Apostles and shortly after the resurrection of Jesus. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and said to them, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain, they are retained’” (Jn 20:21-23).
WHY JESUS SELECTED THE APOSTLES:
1. Jesus’ fame had spread even to faraway places. So, he wanted to share his power with some select disciples, which enabled them to reach out to distant places, extending Jesus’ ministry like preaching and healing the sick.
2. Considering that Jesus’ enemies were plotting to kill him, the period of his public ministry was not to exceed three years and a few months. In fact, Jesus knew that the appointed time of his self-sacrifice was imminent (Jn 12:23). There was no print or broadcast media during those days for easy transmission of the Gospel. So, he needed helpers to complete his programme. He could achieve that only through the apostles, who were fulltime disciples.
3. Jesus had a succession plan in place, too. He wanted to reconstitute the chosen people of God. Instead of the Israelites who rejected him as the Messiah, Jesus was going to establish the Church to follow up his mission until his Second Coming. He had to train and prepare the initial leaders of the Church to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So, his selection of the apostles was followed by training and hands on experience.
WHY 12 APOSTLES:
According to Biblical numerology, 12 is a perfect number like 3, 7, 10, 50 and 100. God established Israel as 12 tribes under the names of the sons of Jacob (Gen 49:28). Moses sent 12 spies to Canaan, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. King David selected 12 tribal leaders to represent these tribes for efficient administration (1 Chr 27:16-22). When Jesus started his public ministry as the Son of David, he reestablished the rule of the 12 tribal representatives through the 12 apostles he selected on the mountain. This showed the reestablishment of the old Israel in a new format. These 12 were not representatives of the 12 tribes originating from Jacob. However, they would “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:30) at his Second Coming. Though the apostles were Jews, they were to represent all nations whom God promised to bless when He made a covenant with Abraham, emphatically stating: “In your descendants all the nations of the Earth will find blessing” (Gen 26:4).
Biblically speaking, while 12 is considered the perfect number of administration and symbolizes universality, 3 signifies the triune God and four – the four corners of the Earth. Twelve is the product of three and four. Jesus sent the twelve apostles out in twos to the four corners of the world to communicate the love of the Triune God, the numeral 2 implying a union, division or verification of facts by witnesses.
whom he also named apostles
Jesus named his specially designated his group of disciples as ‘apostles’. Interestingly, the word ‘apostles’ originates from the Greek word Apostolos meaning “person sent.” It delegates a person to another in a distant place or country. Thus, the apostles were representatives of Jesus to communicate his mission and continue his sacrificial service to humanity. The early Church later applied the term apostle to other prominent leaders of the Church, like Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14; Gal 1:1).
that they might be with him
Once selected, the apostles became a family of Jesus. Unlike other disciples who used to come as observers and listeners for a while only, the apostles left behind everything they had, travelled with Jesus, and stayed with him full-time. During that formation period, they learned firsthand how Jesus lived, behaved, preached, and showed compassion to the people in need. Jesus shared private instructions and secrets with them (Mt 13:11, Mk 4:11). After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to them often, and gave them further training. Thus, the apostles had the privilege of being with Jesus until he ascended to Heaven.
and he might send them forth to preach
The primary goal of the apostles was to preach the Word of God, revealed through Jesus. The miracles the disciples performed were to strengthen the believers and to continue the works of mercy initiated by Jesus. During his public ministry, Jesus sent the disciples only to nearby places. After Pentecost, he sent them out from Jerusalem to all over the world (Lk 24:47).
(15) and to have authority to drive out demons.
Jesus wished to continue his miracles of mercy through his apostles so that people would receive them in his name and those suffering would benefit from God’s favours. They were casting out demons in Jesus’ name with the authority he had given them.
(16) These are the Twelve: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter;
Simon means “to hear” or “God has heard” which could mean that he was born in answer to the prayers of his parents, or it could be a name he had inherited from his ancestors. He, along with his brother, Andrew, was a fisherman. Jesus called them both while they were at their trade, viz. fishing (Mt 4:18-20). Even at that moment, Jesus promised them, “I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). “At once they left their nets and followed him” (Mt 4:20). As a fisherman, Peter was not an expert in the scriptures. However, he had leadership qualities. He might have been the leader of a band of fishermen. Jesus made use of Peter’s skills and openness to new ideologies for his mission.
whom he named Peter
When Jesus and the apostles were in Caesarea Philippi, Simon confessed his faith in Jesus, stating, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). In response, Jesus changed his name to Peter. When God gave a new name to a person, it showed a new identity. Petra means rock. Since it is a feminine form, Jesus used Petros, a masculine version of rock for Peter. In Isaiah 51:1-2, Abraham, the father of faith, was known as a rock. His faith in God was the basis of the Old Testament believers. So also, the New Testament period is based on the faith that Peter professed in Jesus. Jesus wanted to build his Church upon this rock (Mt 16:18). When Jesus was speaking of Peter as a rock, they were standing on the rock base of Mount Hermon.
According to the Biblical concept, only a person who has authority could change the name of another person. The change of name showed a change in the identity or mission of the person. Among the apostles, only Peter had that privilege of Jesus changing the name.
Though Simon was not the first disciple of Jesus, he is first in all lists of the apostles (Mt 10:2; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13; 1 Cor 15:5–8) because Jesus later made him the leader of the college of Apostles. Jesus gave authority to Peter, saying, “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven” (Mt 16:19).
(17) James, son of Zebedee, and John his brother, to whom he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’ .
James, son of Zebedee
The evangelist specifies James as the son of Zebedee to distinguish him from James, the son of Alphaeus. James was the first martyr among the apostles and the only martyrdom of an apostle recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:1-3). King Herod Agrippa had him beheaded in Jerusalem in 42 A.D. This James is commonly known as James the Great.
John, the brother of James
John was younger than James. So, Mark gives John’s name after James. He was “the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side” (Mk 13:23) at the Last Supper. John was the only apostle bold enough to be at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Jesus entrusted his mother Mary to John, and John to Mary (Jn 19:26-27). Besides his gospel and epistles, John also authored the book of Revelation based on his vision of Heaven while the Roman emperor expelled him on the Island of Patmos. He had a natural death at Ephesus in 100 A.D. when he was 88 years old. He was the only apostle who died of natural causes.
Common features of James and John
James and John were sons of Zebedee and Salome from Bethsaida. Both were fishers on the Lake of Galilee, along with their father. Jesus nicknamed James and John as Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder” which reflects their character. While Jesus and the apostles were going through Samaria to Jerusalem, the Samaritans declined to welcome Jesus. Then James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from Heaven to consume them?” (Lk 9:54) During the public ministry of Jesus, both were desirous of sitting at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom (Mk 10:3545). After Pentecost, their zeal launched them into proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, and they dedicated their lives for it.
They, along with Peter, were in the inner circle of Jesus. Out of the 12 apostles, Jesus took only Peter, James, and John to special places like the mount of Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and to the Garden of Gethsemane, because of which the evangelist lists James and John immediately after Simon Peter, although Andrew was Simon’s brother.
(18) Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean
Matthew lists Andrew after Peter because he was Peter’s brother and the first disciple that Jesus called. Andrew was the son of Jonas and a disciple of John the Baptist. He was one among the two who heard John the Baptist introducing Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:35-37). He was the first to follow Jesus and was enthusiastic to introduce Jesus to his brother Simon Peter (Jn 1:40-42). Unlike his brother Simon, Andrew was a reserved person. However, he was passionate about preaching the gospel. He preached in Asia Minor (Turkey), Scythia, east of Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. He faced the martyrdom of crucifixion with boldness and courage. According to tradition, he was put to death under Governor Aepeas in the town of Patra in Greece in 61 AD. When he was sentenced to be crucified, Andrew begged that his cross differ from his master’s because of his unworthiness in using the same type of cross. So, his was an X-shaped cross which is now known as St Andrew’s cross. While on the cross for two days, he preached from there. A two-crossed fish is also used as a symbol for Andrew because he was a fisherman before becoming an apostle of Jesus and was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter (Jn 1:44) and could have possibly been a fisherman. He was formerly a disciple of John the Baptist. After John introduced Jesus to his disciples, Jesus found and called Philip to follow him (Jn 1:43). Philip immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah. He was enthusiastic to introduce Jesus to Nathanael by telling him: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets” (Jn 1:45). So, from the very beginning of his discipleship, Philip was sharing the Good News of Jesus’ ministry with others. Though the Bible does not record Philip professing faith directly to Jesus like Peter, Nathanael, or Thomas, he was convinced from the very beginning that Jesus was the Messiah.
Scholars assume Philip as the overseer of supplies and food for Jesus and his apostles. Before Jesus fed the 5,000 listeners by the multiplication of five loaves and two fish, it was to Philip that Jesus asked, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip answered: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit” (Jn 6:5-7). Philip preached in Greece and Turkey. The persecutors crucified him upside down at Hierapolis in Persia in 62 AD.
Bartholomew, known as Nathanael in John, was from Cana in Galilee (Jn 21:2). Philip introduced Jesus to Nathanael. When Jesus saw Nathanael, he said of him: “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47). Nathanael’s response to Jesus’ assertion was a Profession of Faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49). Jesus promised Nathanael: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51). Nathanael is said to have preached in India and then in Asia Minor. He was martyred in Armenia in 72 AD by means of being flayed alive.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was the son of Alphaeus and lived in Capernaum. Levi was the Hebrew name and Matthew was his Greek name. When being called by Jesus to follow him, Matthew was a tax collector or publican. A ‘publican’ is someone said to be engaged in public service or in handling public money. The Jews considered tax collectors as traitors and outcasts because they collected tax for the Romans who were their pagan oppressors and rulers. The Jews hated them because they exploited taxpayers by brazenly collecting unjust amounts from them than was due to the government. That was why John the Baptist told the tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” (Lk 3:13). Jesus selected one such hated “publican” and made him his apostle.
When Jesus called Levi, he gave up his profession and enormous wealth to follow Jesus. He used his skills to write the first gospel that was intended for the Jews, proving that many prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah were indeed fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Matthew preached in Egypt and is said to have been speared to death in Ethiopia in 65 AD.
The original name of Thomas, according to tradition, is Judas Thomas or Judas the Twin. He is believed to be of the same age as Jesus. He expressed his boldness to die for Jesus when the other disciples discouraged Jesus from going back to Judaea to see the sick Lazarus saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (Jn 11:8) Thomas encouraged them to accompany Jesus, saying, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). However, Thomas was not at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion of Jesus. He doubted the resurrection of Jesus when the other disciples said that they had seen the Risen Lord. So, Thomas is nicknamed the “Doubting Thomas”. However, he expressed his great faith in the Lord by declaring to Jesus, “My Lord and My God” (Jn 20:28) when Jesus appeared to him the following Sunday. Thomas preached in Parthia, Persia, and India. According to apocryphal books, while Thomas was abroad, the Blessed Mother Mary died, and he reached at her home on the third day after her death. Upon his insistence, the tomb of Mary was opened, and her body was not found. Thomas saw Mary being taken up to Heaven. Like Matthew, Thomas too was martyred by means of a spear in Mylapore, India in 72 AD.
James, son of Alphaeus
James, the son of Alphaeus (Lk 6:15) and Mary (Mk 15:40), was known as James the Lesser or James the Younger to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee who followed Jesus before him. According to some, he wrote the Epistle of James. Some hold that he was a brother of Matthew and Judas Thaddeus whose father was Alphaeus. James preached in Palestine and Egypt and was crucified in Egypt in 62 AD before his body was sawed into pieces.
Judas was named Thaddeus, which means “big hearted” to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. According to tradition, Thaddeus preached in Assyria and Persia. He was also known as Judas the Zealot because of his enthusiasm to see Jesus ruling the world. At the last supper, he asked Jesus: “Master, then how is it that you would reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” (Jn 14:22) He wanted to publicize Jesus as a ruling king. Judas Thaddeus preached in Edessa and healed Abgar, the king of Edessa. He was clubbed to death at Ararat.
Simon the Cananean
Simon is named Simon, the Zealot in Matthew 10:4 and Luke 6:15, and as Simon the Cananean in Mark 3:18. ‘Cananean’ need not necessarily mean that he was from the original inhabitants of Canaan. In Hebrew, Cananean is the equivalent of Zealot in Greek. He must have been a member of the Zealot group before joining Jesus’ band. The Zealots were a group of revolutionaries organized against the Roman rule. Their revolt against Rome led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Unlike Matthew, who was pro-Roman, Simon was anti-Roman. Jesus selected both with opposing views to be part of his band and made them individuals of true faith. Simon worked, suffered, and died for the true Kingdom of God that Jesus established.
According to tradition, Simon preached on the west coast of Africa before moving to England, where the persecutors crucified him in 74 AD. Others say that, after preaching in Egypt, he accompanied Saint Jude to Persia and was martyred in Edessa in 67 AD.
(19) and Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed him.
Judas is believed to be from Judah near Jericho, whereas the other apostles were from Galilee. Judas had attraction for Jesus, who gave him the privileged position of an apostle. Jesus entrusted him with the little money that he and his disciples received for their sustenance from well-wishers. The Evangelist John reports that “he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions” (12:6). Jesus was well aware of what Judas was doing and was going to do. During the public ministry, Jesus said to the Apostles: “‘Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?’ He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve” (Jn 6:7071). Even after walking with Jesus, listening to his discourses, and witnessing the miracles he performed for over three years, Judas could not give his heart to Jesus. Unfortunately, his interest shifted from Jesus to money.
Some people believe Judas was also a Zealot. He believed that Jesus the Messiah would overthrow the Romans and establish his earthly kingdom. Judas eventually lost hope in Jesus and sold his master for 30 pieces of silver to his enemies. When he realized that the Jews had condemned Jesus, he regretted deeply on what he had done (Mt 27:3). He might have also assumed that since his master had escaped previous assassination attempts, he might do the same despite him betraying Jesus and helping the soldiers. However, Jesus’ time had arrived. Judas’ attempt to return the money to the chief priests and elders did not help release Jesus. Even the temple authorities found it was unlawful to deposit the money in the temple treasury. So, they bought a potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. Judas, for his part, when his attempts failed, got depressed and hanged himself (Mt 27:3-5). The Satan that entered Judas did not allow him to turn towards his master for forgiveness.
1. When Jesus came as the Messiah, the elite Jews and ordinary people approached him differently. What is our approach to the Church Jesus established and to Jesus’ representatives who lead the Church? Are we unduly opposing the Church or are we supporting its build-up?
2. Jesus used his time and power to the hilt to help the less fortunate. He declined no one seeking his help. How do we consider the people who need our care?
3. Jesus spent a night in prayer atop a mountain before selecting his apostles. Let us also spiritually entrust ourselves to God before making any important decision in life.
4. Jesus chose ordinary people and strengthened them for the task at hand. Regardless of how weak we are, Jesus can empower us to work for him and can bring about outstanding results through us. Are we cooperating with Jesus and his Church?
5. The Pope and our bishops are successors of Peter and the other apostles. Let us listen to them as representatives of Jesus.
6. The primary mission of the apostles was to preach the message Jesus communicated so that their listeners attain eternal salvation. The acts of mercy are to supplement them and not vice versa. Charity devoid of a missionary goal is hardly evangelization!
7. Judas Iscariot was enthusiastic about following Jesus. Eventually, he lost interest and became greedy for money. He reached a point of no return. Let us be watchful not to deviate from our spiritual goal.