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Denha Eighth Sunday

Season of Denha

Eighth Sunday: MATTHEW 9:35-10:4
HE SENDS THE APOSTLES AMONG THE SHEEP THAT HAVE NO SHEPHERD

INTRODUCTION

“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness” (Mt 9:35). Then people rushed to Jesus, seeking his help for cure and eager to listen to him. Jesus noticed they were craving for God’s mercy and salvation. Since the Jewish leaders of the time had forsaken the people and became self-centered, Jesus felt pity for them and said they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he asked his disciples to pray for plentiful shepherds who would cater to the needs of the people. Since the Jewish leaders were non-cooperative to the Messiah, Jesus reconstituted Israel by establishing the church. He shared the 12 apostles his mission to preach, the power to cast out demons, and to heal the sick.

Jesus used two comparisons of the then pastoral situation: (1) The people were sheep without a shepherd; (2) The harvest was plenty, and the laborers were few. By the sacraments of initiation, all of us are called to be shepherds in our own situation. Let us fill the shortage of shepherds by ministering to the pastoral needs of our family members, our Christian community, and the non-Christians around us. The crops will be wasted if there are fewer laborers. Let us do our part in Christian witnessing, promote vocations to priesthood, religious life, and lay ministry, and support the missionaries.

BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 9:35-10:4 )

The Compassion of Jesus

(Mt 9:35) Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. (36) At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. (37) Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; (38) so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

The Mission of the Twelve

(Mt 10:1) Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. (2) The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; (3) Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; (4) Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

INTERPRETATION

Background

In Matthew’s gospel, after the sermon on the mount (chapters 5-7), many people approached Jesus for healing and other favors from him. In chapter eight, he healed a leper (v. 1-4), a centurion’s servant (v. 5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (v 14-15), drove out demons from many demoniacs and cured all the sick who came to him (v. 16-17), and healed two demoniacs at Gadarenes (v. 28-34). In chapter nine, Jesus healed a paralytic for which the scribes accused him of blasphemy (v. 1-8). When Jesus dined at the house of Levi, the Pharisees alleged him for eating with tax collectors and sinners (v. 9-13). The disciples of John asked Jesus why his disciples were not fasting while they and the Pharisees were fasting (v. 14-17). Jesus raised an official’s daughter from death (v. 18-26), he healed a woman suffering hemorrhages for 12 years by her touching the tassel of his cloak (v. 20-22), and he haled two blind men who addressed him as son of David (v. 27-31). Then he cured a demoniac who was mute. Mathew then summarizes, “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness” (Mt 9:35). After several teachings and miracles of mercy, Jesus felt compassion on the helpless flock and selected apostles to broaden and continue his pastoral ministry because the then religious leaders like the Pharisees and scribes were self-centered and abandoned their flock.

The Compassion of Jesus

(Mt 9:35) Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages

Though Jesus centered his ministry in Capernaum, he went to all residential areas in Galilee (Mt 4:23; Mk 1:39). In his traveling ministry, he preached and healed the sick in the fortified cities and open villages. That helped him to get the pulse of the local people and understand their pathetic situation because of poverty, sickness, hopelessness, negligence of religious leaders, and their spiritual misguidance.

teaching in their synagogues

The Greek word “Synagogue” means people’s gathering or assembly room. The exact reason for the derivation of synagogues is unknown. According to some Jewish tradition, there were assemblies of Jews for prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-19) and study of Torah even during the period of Solomon’s Temple. Some believe that the Jews started synagogues in Babylonia during their exile. After the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BC, the sacrifices were halted for a long time. So, the Jews used private homes and later built synagogues for public worship and religious studies. Another view is that the Jewish communities started the synagogues outside Jerusalem to pray together when the priests were busy for two weeks each in the Temple of Jerusalem during the major feasts. All of the above can be true. The synagogues served also as community centers with provisions for gatherings, education, courtroom, charity works, and prayer halls.

Even after construction of the second Temple, the synagogues continued in Jewish settlements all over the world, including Rome, Greece, Egypt, Babylonia, and Asia Minor. The synagogues helped to keep the Jewish communities organized on a local level. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the synagogues became more significant to keep the dispersed Jewish communities intact. The synagogues had morning, afternoon, and evening services. Special liturgies were held on the sabbath and on religious festivals. Since synagogues had no sacrifices, priests were unnecessary, instead rabbis took care of the services.

The essential components of the synagogue are an ark where Torah Scrolls are kept, an “eternal light” burning in front of the ark as a symbol of God’s presence, two candlesticks, pews, and a biemah (a raised platform for reading the Scriptures and for services). The “eternal light” also represents the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. An honorable seat called “Moses’ Seat” was placed for Torah readers because they were reading Moses' words (Matthew 23:2). A ritual bath (mikvah) was available on the outside premises of the synagogue, where the believers symbolically cleansed their hearts before they entered the synagogue.

Besides scripture reading and public worship, a rabbi or a scholar exhorted the people on the scripture. Jesus also got opportunities to preach in the synagogues throughout Galilee (Mt 4:23; Mk 1:9).

proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom

Jesus came proclaiming the gospel, which means “good news.” That news was the forthcoming establishment of the “the kingdom of God” through Messiah that God had promised throughout the Old Testament. “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15). Based on this, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would happen. The reply was, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:20-21). “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). It is a rebirth from above (Jn 1:3) in water and Spirit (Jn 3:5). The kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), but a reign of Christ in the hearts of his followers that starts with the reception of the sacrament of baptism.  

Repentance and belief in the gospel (Mk 1:15) are the methods to become part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus instructed his apostles, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16). Rejection of the gospel will have grave consequence. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18). “Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day” (Jn 12:48). It is an individual’s choice to accept or reject the Kingdom of God and receive its outcome.

curing every disease and illness.

Besides being a teacher, Jesus put into practice what he taught. He made use of his divine power to help the helpless. When people noticed his initiative to assist them, ever more people came to get his care. Because of his divinity, Jesus could cure all types of sickness. His actions were also part of his teaching. Besides his personal prayer at night in solitude, he healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the hungry, and eased sufferings of the people even by raising the dead. He showed that religion consists of action-based love. That was in contrast to the religious leaders of the time who disregarded the poor and the suffering.

(36) At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.

Based on Jesus’ travel experience all around the villages in Galilee proclaiming the gospel, he had three initiatives different from the Jewish elites of the time.

(1) Jesus observed the “troubled and abandoned” situation of the people.

(2) “His heart was moved with pity for them.”

(3) He did what he could to alleviate their sufferings and acted for the expansion and continuation of his ministry through his disciples.

At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them

There are several occasions when Jesus noticed the sufferings of the people and felt pity on them. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick” (Mt 14:14). Before feeding the 4,000, “Jesus summoned his disciples and said, ‘My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way’” (Mt 15:33).

Out of sympathy, Jesus took initiative to help the helpless without their request for any favor.

(1) Jesus healed a man with a withered hand in a synagogue on a Sabbath (Mt12:9-14; Mk 3:1-6; Lk 6:6-11).

(2) He was “moved with pity” on a widow whose son died, and he raised him during the funeral procession (Lk 7:11-17).

(3) He healed a person lying at the pool of Bethsaida who was sick for 38 years (Jn 5:1-15).

(4) Jesus took initiative to feed 5,000 who came to listen to him (Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:30-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-15).

(5) He fed 4,000 by stating, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd” (Mt 15:32-29; Mk 8:1-13).

(6) Jesus healed on a sabbath a woman who was crippled by a spirit for 18 years (Lk 13:10-17).

(7) He healed a man with dropsy on the Sabbath while dining at the house of a Pharisee (Lk 14:1-6).

(8) Jesus healed the high priest’s servant at Gethsemane when Peter cut off his right ear (Lk 22:50-51).

During some of these and other occasions, the Pharisees and scribes were looking with contempt at Jesus because he did those on a Sabbath or because he forgave the sins of the sick, which according to the opponents was blasphemy. They even plotted to assassinate Jesus for these reasons.

Our service must come from our heart, the seat of love and compassion. Jesus had invited those who were meek and humble to find relief in his heart. Instead of a ritualistic religion, he chose a heart-centered faith. He substituted Jewish religion with Christianity to offer service from the heart.  

because they were troubled and abandoned

While traveling through the settlements of Galilee, Jesus found that the religious leaders of the time had misled the ordinary people with their false teachings and deserted the less fortunate. People were ignorant of the benevolence of God and the right way to practice religion.

like sheep without a shepherd

Though wild sheep are adapted to take care of themselves, domesticated sheep depend on the shepherd for their survival and protection. The shepherd must lead the sheep to good pastures daily because they need daily food. If the pastureland is wide and unfenced land, the sheep might get lost, fall off a cliff, or can be victims of predators, wild animals, or thieves.

God’s chosen people need divine guidance and protection. So, He chose human representatives to guide them in keeping their covenantal relationship with God, to safeguard them from their tendency to sin, and to protect them from the snares of Satan. The relationship between God and Israel was compared to a shepherd who took excellent care of His sheep. “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4).

The leaders of Israel who were God’s representatives to shepherd His sheep often failed in their responsibility. The LORD addressed the awful shepherds of Israel through Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds pasture the flock? You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. They were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; over the entire surface of the earth my sheep were scattered. No one looked after them or searched for them” (Ezekiel 34:2-6). “Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, leading them astray on the mountains; From mountain to hill they wandered, forgetting their fold” (Jeremiah 50:6).

Almost similar was the situation of the shepherds and sheep in Israel when Jesus did his public ministry. The Jewish leaders did not show any commitment to the people of God. Instead, they ignored or mistreated their sheep. Jeremiah presented Israel as a “lost sheep” misled by their shepherds (Jeremiah 50:6). Ezekiel spoke of the selfish shepherds of Israel and God’s promise that He himself would rescue his sheep. “I will search for my sheep myself, and I will look after them” (Ezekiel 34:11). Jesus, the Son of God, came as a shepherd to his sheep, Israel (John 10:11-16). He considered the house of Israel as a lost sheep (Mt 10:6; 15:24). He exemplified himself as a good shepherd by laying down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11) and authorized his apostles and their successors to continue shepherding the faithful on his behalf.

(37) Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;

Jesus applied examples from the experience of ordinary people like farmers, shepherds, and fishermen to illustrate difficult to understand or memorable truth about the kingdom of God. Here, Jesus uses the experience of farm owners when the harvest time arrives. They will desperately search for harvesters to do the job. Though the corps are plenty, the shortage of reapers would waste the corps.  

After Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman, possibly looking at the nearby villages, Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest” (Jn 4:35). Out of his pity for the enormous number of people whom the God-assigned leaders had abandoned, Jesus chose to save them by selecting dedicated laborers, training them, and assigning them for faithful service. They would replace the irresponsible and unfaithful leaders of Israel.

(38) so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

John the Baptist and Jesus had been preaching and baptizing many people to prepare for the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ was about to establish on the day of Pentecost. They had sowed the seed for the harvest. A huge number of people were ready for it when the church was set up for them. Jesus wanted his Father’s support to get enough pastors for the sheep that must be brought into his sheepfold from all nations of the world.

Jesus did everything only in accord with this Father (Jn 5:19). The Father sent him as the Sower of the divine Word. He wanted more laborers to work in God’s field to sow and to harvest. That also was a motivation for his disciples to promote vocations for full time or part-time ministry of the Word of God.

The Mission of the Twelve

(Mt 10:1) Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.

Then he summoned his twelve disciples

Jesus had already selected his 12 apostles before (Lk 6:13). They left everything they had and accompanied him full time. So, they already knew what Jesus taught, how compassionate he was for the suffering people, and how he was helping them to use his divine power. So far, the apostles were learners. Since the crops were plenty, it was time for them to get hands-on experience to broaden the mission of Jesus. Hence, Jesus gathered the 12 to assign them responsibility and to give them authority to extend his mission by preaching, healing, and casting out demons. Unlike the priests, scribes, and Pharisees, these 12 were ordinary people with less education, reputation, and social status. Jesus chose the weak to manifest God’s power through them.

The number 12 shows that their ministry was for the whole of Israel, that comprised 12 tribes dispersed all over the world because of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. As apostles, they were his ambassadors throughout the world. Just as Father sent the Son with a mission, the Son directed his representatives sharing his authority to reach out to more places at the same time.

gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out

The demons were called unclean spirits because they were wicked and misguiding people to turn away from God. They were unclean in contrast to God, who is Holy. The apostles could drive them out like Jesus did. Those freed from Satan’s bondage could receive Jesus and reach heaven after the earthly life. The apostles were casting our demons in Jesus’ name using the authority he had given them.

and to cure every disease and every illness.

Jesus shared his power with the apostles to cure all types of diseases and illnesses. That was to supplement their preaching of the Kingdom of God and to prove to the public that God sent them. Like Jesus, the apostles also could alleviate the suffering of many, save their souls, and gain public attention.

The apostles could practice during the public ministry of Jesus so they could learn by doing and clarify their doubts with Jesus. According to Mark 6:7, Jesus sent them out two by two, so they could mutually support and gain confidence in an inexperienced field.

(2) The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John

The names of the twelve apostles are these:

Jesus had many followers called disciples who admired his teachings and learned from him. Jesus selected 12 among them as his full-time companions. They left everything for Jesus and his kingdom and continued Jesus’ ministry even after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Because of their prominence in the new Kingdom Jesus established, the evangelists specified their names.

The term apostle originates from Apostolos, a Greek word meaning “person sent.” It means a person sent as a delegate to another in a distant place or country. Jesus specially selected, trained, and sent the apostles as his ambassadors to extend and continue his mission. The early church later applied the term apostle to other prominent leaders of the church, like St. Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14; Gal 1:1).

There were some common features among the 12 apostles whom Jesus picked from his disciples. The apostles were ordinary Jews, not experts in the law, open minded, and holding secular professions to support their families. Jesus avoided scribes who were experts in the Scripture, Pharisees who were conservatives and detached from the public, and Sadducees who were predominantly priests. Jesus did not select anyone from the Sanhedrin to the college of apostles. He chose sinners like Matthew and zealots like Simon. All the 12, except Judas Iscariot, were Galileans. All the apostles, including Matthew, the richest among them, left everything they had to follow Jesus, and considered the Kingdom of God as their priceless treasure. They left their loved ones and formed a family with Jesus.

The apostles were unaware of what kind of kingdom Jesus was going to establish. Because of their misunderstanding of it, they were fighting for positions. The common belief of the time was that the Messiah would establish an earthly Kingdom of God. Within three years, Jesus reformatted the mind of the apostles according to his vision of the Kingdom. They were open-minded to receive it. All of them, except Judas Iscariot, received the Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost and continued the mission of Jesus. They faced persecution for promulgating the church. All of them, except John the Evangelist, ended up as martyrs.

The following are the common features of some apostles:

1. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen and Jesus called them while they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee (Mt 4:18-22).

2. Thomas, Nathaniel, and Philip were also engaged in fishing (John 21:2-8).

3. Peter, James, and John were the innermost circle of Jesus. They were with Jesus when he healed Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:37), at the of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1), and during Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane (Mt 26:37).

4. There were two James (James son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus), two Judas (Judas Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot), and two Simons (Simon Peter and Simon the Cananean).

5. Peter, Nathaniel (Bartholomew), and Thomas professed their faith in Jesus.

6. Mathew and John wrote the gospels. Mark and Luke were not among the 12 apostles.

7. There were three sets of brothers. (1) Peter and Andrew, (2) James and John who were sons of Zebedee, and (3) James the son of Alphaeus, Judas Thaddeus, and Simon the Canaanite who were also cousins of Jesus.

8. Peter, John, James, and Jude wrote epistles.

9. Andrew and Philip were disciples of John the Baptist before they followed Jesus.

10. Peter and John accompanied Jesus to the high priest's residence during the trial of Jesus.

11. Jesus nicknamed James and John, the sons of Zebedee as Boanerges (sons of thunder).

first, Simon called Peter

The Bible gives the list of apostles in four places (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:13-16; Acts 1:13). In all these, Peter’s name is first because of his prominence among the college of the apostles. He had the privilege of hosting Jesus at his house while Jesus centered his ministry in Capernaum. Peter made the profession of faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). Pleased with this, Jesus changed his name, saying, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Jesus entrusted the keys of heaven to Peter (Mt 16:19). Probably, he might have been a leader among the fishermen and had natural leadership qualities. So, Jesus made him head of the college of Apostles. His name and activities are recorded in the New Testament more than any other apostle. Though he denied Jesus three times during the trial of Jesus, he compensated it by expressing his love of Jesus three times at the post-resurrection appearance (Jn 21:15-17). In each of these, Jesus asked him to feed his sheep.

and his brother Andrew

Matthew lists Andrew immediately after Peter because he was the brother of Simon Peter and the first disciple to follow Jesus. 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!” (John 1:35-37). He enthusiastically introduced Jesus to his brother Simon Peter (John 1:40-42). Compare to his brother Simon, Andrew was a reserved person. However, he was passionate about preaching the gospel in the early church. He was with Peter, James, and John when they had a private discussion with Jesus at the Mount Olives on the destruction of Jerusalem (Mk 13:3).

James, the son of Zebedee

Matthew specifies James as the son of Zebedee to distinguish him from James, the son of Alphaeus. Jesus called him along with his brother John while they were on their boat with their father Zebedee mending their nets (Mt 4:21). He was one among the inner circle of Jesus, along with Peter and John. Because King Herod Agrippa beheaded him in Jerusalem in 42 A.D., he became the first martyr among the apostles. His is the only martyrdom of an apostle recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:1-3). He is commonly known as James the Great.

and his brother John

Since John was the younger brother of James, the evangelists give his name immediately after James. Jesus had asked Peter and John to prepare Passover for Jesus and the apostles (Lk 22:8). John was “the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side” (Mk 13:23) at the Last Supper. He was the only apostle who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus entrusted Mother Mary to John, and John to Mary (Jn 19:26-27). So, he took care of Mother Mary until her dormition. Peter and John were the first among the apostles to visit the tomb after the resurrection of Jesus (Jn 20:3-8). Besides his gospel and epistles, John also authored the book of Revelation based on his vision of heaven while in exile at the Island of Patmos. He had a natural death at Ephesus in 100 A.D. and was the only apostle who died of natural causes.

James and John had some common characteristics. Jesus called both while fishing at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus nicknamed them as Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder” (Mk 3:17) 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 10:35-45). However, Jesus selected them, along with Peter, as his innermost circle and hence they got prominence among the list of apostles. After the Pentecost, their zeal was turned to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, and they dedicated their lives for it.

(3) Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus

Philip

Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter (Jn 1:44) and could be 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 enthusiastically introduced 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. 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?”

Bartholomew

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). Response of Nathanael to Jesus 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).

Thomas

The original name of Thomas, according to tradition, is Judas Thomas or Judas the Twin. He expressed his boldness to die for Jesus when the other disciples discouraged Jesus from going back to Judea to see the sick Lazarus asking, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (Jn 11:8). Thomas encouraged them, saying, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). However, Thomas was not present at 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 as “Doubting Thomas." However, he expressed his fervent faith in the Lord by declaring to Jesus, “My Lord and My God” (Jn 20:28) when Jesus appeared to him the next Sunday.

Matthew, the tax collector

Matthew, also known as Levi, was the son of Alpheus, and lived in Capernaum. Levi was the Hebrew name and Matthew his Greek name. Before following Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector. The Jews considered him as a public sinner because he collected tax for Romans who were their pagan oppressors. The Jews hated tax collectors as exploiters because they demanded unjust amount from them than was necessary to pay to the government. Hence, John the Baptist told the tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” (Lk 3:13). Jesus selected such a hated “criminal” and made him his apostle. When Jesus called Levi, he left his profession and enormous wealth to follow Jesus. He used his skills to write the first gospel that was envisioned for the Jews, establishing that the prophesies of the Old Testament about the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

James, the 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 uphold that he was the brother of Matthew and Judas Thaddeus, whose father was Alphaeus.

Thaddeus

Judas was named Thaddeus, that means “big hearted” to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. 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 what happened that you would reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” (Jn 14:22). He wanted to publicize Jesus as a ruling king.

(4) Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Simon the Cananean

Simon the Cananean is also known as Simon the Zealot in Luke 6:15. Cananean did not mean that he was from the original inhabitants of Canaan or from Cana, where Jesus did his first miracle. Cananean is the Hebrew word for zealot in Greek. He must be a member of the zealot group before joining the band of Jesus. The zealots were revolutionaries battling against the Roman rule. Their revolt against Rome ended up in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Unlike Matthew, who was pro-Roman, Simon was anti-Roman. Jesus selected both with opposing views in his group and made them people of true faith.

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Judas was from Judea near Jericho, whereas the other apostles were from Galilee. Jesus entrusted him with the little money Jesus and his disciples received for their sustenance from the well-wishers. St. John reports that “he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions” (12:6). Jesus was aware of what Judas was doing. 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 6:70-71). Even after walking with Jesus, listening to his discourses, and witnessing the miracles he performed for over three years, Judas could not fully commit himself to Jesus. Unfortunately, his interest shifted from Jesus to money.

Some people believe Judas was a zealot. He believed that Jesus the Messiah would overthrow the Romans and establish his earthly kingdom. Judas eventually lost his hope in Jesus and sold his master for 30 pieces of silver to his enemies. When he realized the Jews condemned Jesus, he regretted deeply on what he had done (Mt 27:3). He might have assumed that since Jesus had escaped from previous assassination attempts, he might do the same when Judas would betray Jesus. However, Jesus’s time had arrived. Judas’ attempt to return the money to the chief priests and elders did not help to 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. When his attempts failed, he got depressed and hanged himself (Mt 27:3-5). The Satan that controlled Judas did not allow him to turn towards his master for forgiveness. Because of Judas’ negative characteristics, he is named last in the list of the apostles.

MESSAGE

1. Jesus felt pity on the people who were suffering and abandoned. How do we feel about the sick, suffering, disabled, and those who lost their Christian faith? Are we helping them from our heart? God said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).

2. Jesus helped the helpless in the community and shared the responsibility with others. What initiatives do we take according to the spirit of Jesus to help those who need our care?

3. The Christians must “witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (CCC-1316). Are we accomplishing this in our situation?

4. Without reapers, the harvest will be lost. Every Christian needs to be a reaper for Christ, such as parents in the family, teachers in school, health workers in the hospitals, and so on.

5. Jesus asked his disciples to pray for abundant shepherds to cater to the needs of the people. Let us also pray for an increase in vocations and promote vocations to priesthood and religious life.

6. There are full-time pastors and missionaries who were selected from among us to serve the church. Are we supporting or discouraging them with our words and actions? When we financially support the missions, we are also partaking in the missionary work.

7. The ongoing faith formation is part of missionary work that the families and parishes must do. Let us evaluate how we do it and boost it if necessary.