October / November 2015 - Vol. 82
Jesus calls
                        fishermen to be his disciples

Chosen by God
by Carlos Mantica

What kind of people did the Lord Jesus chose for the important mission of extending God's kingdom on the earth? If you count yourselves among those who have been called, then maybe you have wondered, “What has the Lord seen in me that he liked so much? Has love blinded him?” Or else, you may have thought, “What a tremendous disciple the Lord has got!”

One thing is certain, and it is that it was he who chose us among many who had been called, and he chose us just as we are. Moreover, as St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, he chose us the way we were before we knew him, when we didn’t even like ourselves.

So the question is still stands –What did the Lord perceive in me, that he decided to choose me? There’s some information we have that can be useful in trying to find out: there are at least twelve people that we know for sure were personally called and chosen by him. A few things have reached us in writing about those people, which can help us to find out what the Lord saw in them when he called them.

Christ sends out his
                          disciples, by James Tissot

In this reflection we are going to peer into the personality of the first twelve chosen ones. He chose them long before choosing us, but the call and the mission he gave them were identical to the ones he gave to us.

Simon and Andrew Johnson

Let’s start with the most visible one – Simon Johnson. The Gospels mention him 195 times. The one who comes closest is John (29 times), while the rest of them together only reach 130 times.

The first clue about Peter’s personality can be seen from his very first encounter with Jesus. We know it was his brother Andrew who introduced Jesus to him, and sometimes we think Andrew told John, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to call my brother,” and then he went to McDonald’s at the corner and fetched him. But it wasn’t so. Because John the Baptist is preaching in Bethany of Galilee – not the Bethany close to Jerusalem where Lazarus used to live, but a Bethany that is on the other side of the Jordan River, near the place where this river flows into the Dead Sea, 100 miles away. And Peter does not hesitate to undertake that long trip in order to go and chat with Jesus.

First clue: these are people who are about looking for something, and are willing to take the trouble to find it. The Lord likes people like that. Later on he tells the crowd that if anyone seeks he will find, and if anyone knocks it shall be opened to him.

Though it’s hard to separate religious from political matters when it comes to the Jews, what they are looking for is not a religious leader. They are looking for someone who is going to deliver Israel. They are looking for the expected Messiah.

Peter the Apostle by
                          James Tissot

When Peter comes near Jesus, Jesus doesn’t even let Andrew introduce him, but takes the initiative and says: ‘So you are Simon Bar-Jona? You shall be called Peter’ (John 1:42, personal translation). ‘Bar-Jona’ means ‘John’s son’ or ‘Jonah’s son’, though some exegetes have suggested it comes from an Accadian root meaning ‘terrorist’. We know Peter had at least one sword to hide, and he draws it out when he cuts Malchus’ ear. But let’s move on to a different matter.

Jesus has given him a new name right away. We must not forget that for the Jews, giving someone a new name means to give him a destiny, a vocation. Furthermore, it can only be given by someone with authority over him – a father gives a name to his son, a master to his servant. And Jesus doesn’t just give him a name, but changes the one he already had and gives him a new one, as he has done with most of us. With this he is indicating that he is the Lord, and that his authority over us is larger than anyone else’s, including that of our very parents.

The Gospel does not say whether Peter had anything to reply. He possibly said nothing. He was astonished. Not saying anything is very common in Peter, who ruminates things internally. Like Mary, he is someone who keeps things in his heart even if he doesn’t understand them for the time being. He meditates on them and, as we shall see, this leads him to deep convictions which he then expresses courageously.

Another trait in Peter is that he’s a man who wants to know the truth about everything, and will not keep quiet unless he finds out. When the others do not ask, he asks instead of them, even if no one has appointed him as the representative. That feature is also very frequent in leaders I know.

In Luke 8:43-48, for instance, the incident of the woman with the flow of blood is told. The Lord asks, “‘Who was it that touched me?’” And guess who answers the question that was not addressed to him! “Peter said, ‘Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!’” Peter is one who is always attentive to everything his Master does, says or goes through.

In Matthew 15:15 he asks for the meaning of a difficult doctrine. The Lord is mentioning the topic that it is not what comes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of his mouth. The Pharisees are furious because this goes against all the laws about ritual impurity. “But Peter said to him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’” To begin with, this is not a parable but a teaching; but it’s all the same for Peter, because he doesn’t understand either of them anyway. But Peter wants to know and to understand, and he never ceases to ask about what he does not understand.

In Matthew 18:21 he asks the Lord: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” That’s the way he gradually gets to know how his Master thinks and feels.

In Mark 11:21 he asks about the fig tree that has dried up, and the Lord teaches them about the power of prayer.

Peter kneels before
                          Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish, by
                          James Tissot

In Matthew 19:27 he wants to know what he can expect for himself, and tells Jesus, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” Then the Lord promises them twelve thrones, and to all who leave everything for him he offers a hundredfold in this life, and eternal life as a bonus. A man who doesn’t talk about these things with the Lord will never find out about the perfect plan the Lord has for each of us.

He has a deep familiarity with his Lord, and he also cares for his friends to the point of inquiring into things that are none of his concern. In John 21:21 he asks what John’s future will be. We all know the answer – “What is that to you?”

This desire of his to know and to understand everything the Master says, this desire to know even his deepest thoughts and plans, will lead Peter to be the first one to discover, to internalize and to proclaim what others keep silent about. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And once again, without having been appointed the group’s speaker, it is Peter that answers: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).

Knowing his Master intimately and loving him deeply makes it possible for Peter to accept even things he does not understand, and to remain faithful to his teaching even if all the others forsake him.

In John 6 Jesus tells a sublime piece of foolishness. He is talking about the most beautiful of all his miracles, about the most sublime of all his mysteries:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” ... Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” ... After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (vv. 53, 60, 66-69)
Even when he does not understand a single bit, nothing can now separate him from his Lord. To this date, this continues to be the supreme test for a disciple – remaining faithful to the Lord when we do not understand or when we do not like his teaching, when we would rather have a different doctrine, more to our taste. Peter passes the test.

Up to now we have seen a little of Peter’s mind. Let’s now peer into his heart.

Peter is all heart. That’s why he is impulsive – first he acts, then he thinks about it.

“You shall never wash my feet,” he assures Jesus. And four seconds later: Yes, go ahead, don’t just wash my feet but also my hands and even my head! (cf. John 13:8-9).

It is his impulsiveness too that leads him to draw out his sword at Gethsemane, without thinking about the consequences. Had it not been so dark, he would have cut Malchus’ head!

That’s why he jumps from the boat to walk on the water. The Lord has said, “Come!”, and that’s enough for him. He goes ahead, without calculating his faith.

In the lake of Tiberias, after the resurrection, he jumps to the water with his clothes on, because he has seen Jesus on the shore. “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). The others draw near slowly, in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. Peter just can’t wait.

Jesus transfigured
                          with Peter observing

At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are still with the Lord when Peter interjects his comment – It’s really good to be here! Why don’t we set up three booths?

It is for the same reason that he promises things he does not know if he will fulfill. “Peter declared to him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:33-35).

That’s something he was never cured of. I’m sure that he himself told his executioners, “I’m not worthy to die just like my Master. Crucify me upside down!”

In my view there are three passages that reflect Peter’s hear in a special way. The first one is in fact quite funny, and can be found in Matthew 17:24. Some Jews come to Peter and ask, “Does not your teacher pay the tax?” They were referring to the half-shekel or didrachma, a yearly tax that was paid to the temple – two mere drachmas. And Peter answers, ‘Why, yes... (How can you even think he would not pay it?)’ Brothers and sisters, one thing is certain: at least the didrachma of that year had not been paid by either of them. And Peter covers up the fiscal evasion of his teacher... and of yours truly. Jesus must have found that this response of Peter’s was quite funny, because he then commands him to cast the hook, and tells him that in the fish he catches he will find the exact amount to pay the tax for both of them.

The point is that Peter is willing to do absolutely any foolish thing for his Master’s sake. He’s willing to lie to the IRS... and to look for money in the mouth of a fish.

Jesus rebukes Peter

The second foolish action is tragic and comic at once, and can be found in Matthew 16:22. Jesus has announced his inevitable death. Peter grabs him by the arm, takes him aside and scolds him: ‘Don’t even think about it! Everything can be happen, but no one is going to mess around with you!’ And Jesus, who has paid and will still pay blood sweat to accept his Father’s will, replies with one of the two strongest expressions in the Gospel –  “Get behind me, Satan!”

Not even for the Pharisees did Jesus have such hard words. There is only one more expression that can be compared to this one in its harshness, and Jesus tells it to the person he loves most in the world – his mother, and for the very same reason. Jesus has been accused of healing with the power of Satan, and they want to kill him. Mary, just like Peter, does not want them to kill him, so she comes with some relatives saying that people should not pay attention to what Jesus is saying, because he’s out of his mind. When Jesus is told that his relatives are outside waiting for him, he replies: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother’” (Matthew 12:48-50).

The mother I knew is not this one, but the one that said her fiat – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” When her own life is in jeopardy (for Joseph could have charged her with adultery), Mary does not hesitate to do the will of the Father. But this time it is her kid’s life that is in danger, and love does not let her think. And her son, who inherited his mother’s loving heart, is now willing to do, out of love, an action of foolishness which is a thousand times bigger than wanting to save one’s own son, namely, deciding to save all of us here, by hanging from a cross, and then asking the Father to forgive us because we are crazy and do not know what we are doing.

But we who love him need to know that, even though he is willing to withstand many things, there is one thing he will not tolerate even if it comes from his mother – that is, going against the will of his heavenly Father. When he was very young, at twelve, he cautioned his mother about this at the temple.

Now Peter’s final act of foolishness, motivated by love, is the one he commits on the evening of the arrest at Gethsemane: he goes to stick his nose into Caiaphas’ house.

third denial of
                          Peter, by James Tissot

He does this after the Lord’s warning: “Peter, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Christ would rather have his beloved Peter not take a risk so he could be spared, even if, to avoid danger, Peter has to flee like the rest. And, out of love, he now does exactly what Peter and Mary did. They were willing to have the Messiah escape the cross, in order to spare their dear Jesus such a suffering. Jesus gives Peter a chance to escape his denial by warning him in advance. The passion as a whole is but an absurd drama of love.

And Peter denied his Master, just as he had been warned he would. The others are at peace, safe and hiding. They will never deny their Master as Peter did. Two-thousand years later, people continue to remember Peter as the coward who denied him. They forget that this happened to him because he loved Jesus so much, and they forget how things actually happened. Because this is what actually took place:

If we want to understand the magnitude of Peter’s imprudence, we have to read John, who relates it as follows:
Simon Peter followed Jesus [and the band of soldiers], and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the maid who kept the door, and brought Peter in. The maid who kept the door said to Peter, “Are you not also one of this man’s disciples?” (John 18:15-17)
Strike one! Let’s now go to Matthew 26:71 and following:
And when he went out to the porch, ANOTHER maid saw him, and she said to the by-standers: “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” (The second explosion of adrenaline!) ...After a little while the by-standers came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
By this time, Peter is already dripping sweat. Let’s now go back to John 18:26-27:
One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked: “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed.
Peter was overcome by fear. Jesus, who a few hours before knew dread at Gethsemane, understands him. Peter is no coward, because the things he got into out of love were sheer madness. He was daring, irresponsible, and love-crazy, but that’s a whole different matter. And Jesus knows this: ‘Simon, do you love me?’ ‘Lord, you know that I love you!’ ‘Yes, Peter, but, do you love me more than these?’ And Peter does not blame his brothers, because he loves them too, although he knows they behaved worse than he. ‘Lord, you know that I love you. Let’s not make unpleasant comparisons. I did wrong, and the sins of others are no justification for mine.’

And this is how I imagine the rest of the story: Simon Johnson, do you remember when I said, ‘You are Peter’? You have spent three years trying to find out who I am and what I want you to do. Now I can tell you: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. Jesus did this, because, like someone else that had loved so much, much was forgiven to him who had loved much.

Brothers and sisters, this is Peter. A man like many of you, with a lot of defects. He is impulsive, daring, blunt, talkative, bragging, rash, irresponsible, a meddler, and maybe even a little self-interested. But he is someone who has placed all his human qualities at the service of the Lord, and his whole personality is centered upon hope and empowered by love.

Andrew the Apostle

I would now like to say a few things about his brother Andrew.

When the list of the twelve is given, Andrew is always mentioned in the second place, next to his brother Peter. However, in the three Synoptic gospels, Andrew is not mentioned even once, except in the full list of the twelve. John, who is his buddy in being together with the Baptist and in seeking the Messianic kingdom, is the only author who talks about him. He does so in three instances, and in each of them Andrew is introducing someone else to Jesus.

The first time, it is his brother Peter (John 1:40-42).

The second time, he introduces to Jesus the boy who had the five loaves that Jesus was to multiply (John 6:8-9).

And the third time he is introducing the Greeks who wanted to speak to Jesus, after Philip did not dare introducing them (John 12:20-22).

However, there is nothing in Andrew that would suggest the image of a silly guy. I imagine him serious, silent, firm, unselfish, willing to serve. He is not concerned about being the hero in the movie. His role is to facilitate and to make it possible for things to happen. He is the perfect assistant. He is the right hand of the leader, who is always next to him, but who is not concerned about being the focus of attention. And yet he was the first, together with John, to know and follow Christ, and stays with him to the end. He is the first one to talk about Jesus and to win Peter over for the Lord. Unlike Peter, he does not ask what his reward will be. His reward is being together with Jesus. I know many leaders like Andrew. There are many things that would not be possible without them. God needs people like Andrew.

Let’s move on to the rest of them, because we can learn something from each of them.

Christ sends out 70
                          disciples two by two, by James Tissot

James and John

Let’s now consider John the fisherman, the son of Zebedee, and then we will talk about his brother James. Jesus knew John already. After John hears John the Baptist say that Jesus is the Lamb of God, whose shoes he is not worthy to untie, he follows Jesus together with Andrew, and they stay with him for a couple of days in the wilderness. ‘Master, where do you live?’ ‘Come and you’ll see!’ But he only calls him now, when John is mending the nets together with his father and the servants (Matthew 4:21, Mark 1:19). If they have servants and a boat, that means they are not poor. It’s obvious that they rub shoulders with priestly families, and that’s why we see John enter the house of the High Priest on the evening of Jesus’ arrest and trial, which he could somehow listen to.

It is likely that they were cousins to the Lord. Near the cross there appears one Salome, the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:25), who is the mother of the sons of Zebedee, that is, James and John (Matthew 27:56). Let us remember that, after the death of Jesus, it is John that takes care of his mother. Maybe this kinship led them to believe they had a right to be Jesus’ ministers in his Kingdom (sheer nepotism!) and they sent their mother for lobbying. The Lord doesn’t even pay attention to the woman, but he turns to his cousins and asks, ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ ‘Oh, sure!’, the two young angels reply. ‘Oh, really? Well, I can guarantee that: you are going to drink it! As for the rest of the story, we shall see...’ (cf. Mark 10:39). One of the two, James, is then the first of the Twelve to die for Jesus Christ, executed by Herod (Acts 12:1-2).

The Lord nicknamed them ‘The Sons of Thunder’. If we remember that John was the last one to write a gospel, and by then he was so old that people had begun to think he would never die, it seems to me that the image that his writings convey is the image of a mature John, with the sweetness and placidness of old age. It is not the same John who walked with Jesus when he was a lively, impulsive young boy. I also think he was melted and transformed by love, which is his favorite topic.

Because the John we see in the Synoptic Gospels is the young Son of Thunder. He does not hesitate to walk a hundred miles to go and listen to a crazy hairy fellow who wears a goat skin and proclaims the revolution. He is the one who, just like Peter, goes into the house of Caiaphas on the evening of the arrest. He is the one who, in Gethsemane, runs away naked escaping from the hands of a guard, letting go of his clothes just like we used to do with our shirts in our childhood’s games. He is the only one of the Twelve who is present by the cross, and he is the first one to run and arrive at the empty tomb when he hears from Mary that his Lord is risen.

Since he had been a disciple of John the Baptist, it seems he inherited part of the Baptist’s temper. In Luke 9:49-56 he has two consecutive fits of anger. He first forbids someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, ‘because he’s not one of us’, he explains to the Lord. Who knows what John did to the poor old exorcist! And immediately afterwards, when the Lord sends messengers before him to find lodging in Samaria, and the Samaritans don’t want to receive them, John wants to start a big mess: “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:54-56).

That’s my John! Not because he wants to destroy those who refuse to open their houses to Jesus’ disciples, but because he has taken seriously the power the Lord has given them, and is open to bid fire come down from heaven and to have heaven obey him. Maybe one of these days the Lord will give us permission to do likewise.

We don’t know who transformed John and made him humble, reflexive, profound in the knowledge of great truths, submissive, and one who, above all, focused everything on love. It might have been his new Mother (“John, behold your Mother!”), from whom he never separated. Humble, like Mary, who is never on the forefront, John does not mention his own name even a single time in the gospel he wrote. Reflexive, like her who used to keep all things in her heart, he will be the first great Christian theologian. Submissive like her in her ‘behold the handmaiden of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word’. And loving like her who took us as her children, just as he took her as his mother.

Philip the Apostle
                          called by Jesus, by James Tissot

Philip and Nathanael
I would now like to refer to my favorite apostle, Philip, and his great convert, Nathanael. I follow that order because that is the order in which the Lord called them. The way John tells it is surprising. He says:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1: 43-45)
If we take John’s chronology literally, the call of the fishermen has not taken place yet, and Philip turns out to be the first disciple to whom Christ says, “Follow me.” He is the first one to be called.

And Philip’s peculiar behavior begins to manifest itself right there. Because what characterizes Philip is that, just as, according to the gospels, Jesus Christ did everything right, Philip did everything wrong. We shall see this shortly, but from this first mention of Philip, his own character is clearly portrayed.

First of all, Scripture does not say that he knew Christ beforehand or that Christ knew him. Christ only says, “Follow me!”, and Philip follows him without hesitation. He does not ask, he does not think about it, he just signs on. That’s Philip.

Philip tells
                          Nathanael "come and see"

Second, he immediately takes the long run and goes to look for Nathanael, who is the least likely man to be persuaded in all Galilee.

And when he finds him, he just messes the whole thing. Because he says, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and the prophets too”, and “we have found” involves many people. In any case, it was the Messiah who found him. Then he says that Moses wrote in the Law about the Messiah, and none of us has been able to find anything in the Law that speaks about the Messiah. And finally he says, “He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Another big mistake, because Nathanael is from Cana, which is just next to Nazareth, and his response is, ‘If he were the Messiah and he came from Nazareth, I surely would have heard about him already; and besides, can anything good come from Nazareth?’ And Philip finally adds that Jesus is the son of Joseph. He is the only in the whole Bible who calls him that way. Not very long ago I read an argument by a theologian who asserted that Christ had not been conceived by the Holy Spirit, and he cited Philip’s words as an authority. So he continues to cause trouble!

We will look at Nathanael later. Let’s stick with Philip for the time being.

We already saw that, when a group of Greeks ask to speak to Jesus, Philip does not dare tell him directly, and asks Andrew for help, because Andrew will be heard by Jesus, while Philip is shy. The Lord does not heed either of them and pays no attention to the Greeks at all. The question is, why did the Greeks look for Philip? And the answer is, because Philip is a Greek name (philos - hippos: friend of horses). If we take into account that Caesarea Philippi is not far north from Bethsaida, in the province of Caesarea, and that this was a Romanized Roman colony, and that all Romans were admirers of Greek culture, then it’s almost a fact that Philip spoke Greek. Philip was, then, some kind of “Miami Boy” – he spoke the “English” of his time! And he was an educated, cultivated man, because from the very beginning he shows Nathanael his exegetical ability concerning the announced Messiah.

In John 14:6, the Lord is trying to explain to them something about himself as the image and stamp of the Father, something Paul grasped easily some time afterwards. The Lord says to them, “‘If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen  him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘[You stupid!] I have been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? [I just told you ten seconds ago that] He who has seen me has seen the Father!’”

It even seems that the Lord found Philip amusing, and that he made jokes to him. In John 6, the feeding of the crowd is told. “Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’” And Scripture remarks clearly, “This he said to test him” – that is, to tease him. They are in a deserted place, and so much bread couldn’t have been found even at the largest supermarket in Jerusalem, but Philip produces his calculator and begins to figure out just in case, and replies: “‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’” This is where Andrew, who is more practical and who had already assessed the situation, says to the Lord: “‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?’” – in other words, it’s better if we eat those, just us.

There is a friend of mine who gets very upset at me when I tell him that there is a mistake in the Acts of the Apostles. I say that the Philip mentioned in Acts 8 cannot be Philip the deacon, but has to be our Philip.

First, because it is not reasonable that, when the deacons have just been appointed because there are problems with distributing food and caring for the widows, all the newly appointed go out to evangelize.

Second, because when the disciples were dispersed due to the persecution in Jerusalem, nobody but Philip could have decided to begin with the Samaritans, who did not suffer seeing a Jew at a hundred yards and would not even talk to them, as we learned in the passage about the Samaritan woman.

Third, because he then went to evangelize in Caesarea, which was Philip’s backyard. Fourth, because his formidable apostolic success was to persuade a eunuch who was being carried lying on a chariot, and Philip goes up to the chariot in order to evangelize him. He is suddenly caught up by the Spirit, and ends up in Azotus, in the middle of nowhere. And finally, because when he baptizes his converts he does so with John’s baptism and just forgets to baptize them in the name of Jesus Christ. All of this bears the unmistakable mark of Philip.

But, leaving jokes aside, all of us have met many Philips. In my experience, these are the ones who actually persuade and conquer the most difficult men. They are simple people, with pure hearts. The only thing they want to do is serve, and they don’t care if they feel unable to do what they are asked. They just go and do whatever you ask, and don’t even worry about getting ready. They usually end up getting what you intended, even if in the process they have done the most absurd things and you feel like strangling them. In a retreat they will let out ten heresies and almost kill the leader with a heart attack, but people get converted. Don’t ask them to be coordinators of a community because they will sink it down, but other than that you can ask them for whatever you may want. They rely totally on the Lord.

These men are pure in heart. They will usually show a smile on their lips, which does not disappear even when they are sleeping. “Truly I tell you, if you do not become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” And Philip is already in the best seat. And, to increase our envy, he is the only one that can be called an apostle of the apostles.

Let’s now refer to Philip’s first conquest – Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew. He reminds me a lot about one of our candidates for President of Nicaragua. He is sharp, blunt, self-sufficient, bossy and even rude... but he is a leader. The way Jesus approaches him is interesting, because Jesus would never flatter anybody’s ears, yet he calls him this way: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” And Nathanael proudly responds, “How do you know me?” That was a mistake! “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’” Nathanael turned white and could only say: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” So that was the end of it.

No one ever found out what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. But it must have been something private. In my group we have several theories, but I am not going to tell you what they are.

We also know that kind of leader – serious, monolithic, devoted to study, possibly a friend of debates and lofty lucubrations [learned and laborious piece of writing]. When he says yes it’s yes, when says no it’s no. He accepts no compliments, no threats, no promises. You can count on him and rely on him. He will always do the honest thing. He does not care about pleasing everyone. So never appoint him as P.R. manager.

He’s got only one weakness: Philip. He is willing to do anything for a friend, if he is asked with purity of heart as Philip would.

Matthew called by

Matthew, the Tax Collector
Let’s now refer to Matthew, also called Levi, the tax collector. Jesus himself calls him. In Mark 2:14 we read, “And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

Period. He had possibly listened to Jesus’ teachings at the lake shore, and that was enough for him to follow Jesus. This was something very difficult for a well-off man, as tax collectors certainly were, for they bought the franchise to the Romans and paid beforehand a percentage of what the Romans figured they had to collect. They could not afford not to collect, and some Roman soldiers would help them exact their money from the people. There were reasons enough for the Jews to despise them, as they not only made their profit at the people’s expense, but also strengthened the oppressing Empire with the taxes they collected.

Looked down by all, Matthew must have been a man who resented society as a whole – his fellow Jews and Romans alike. He would only interact with others like him. That is why, immediately after his conversion, he gathers all those people at a dinner where he invites Jesus and his disciples:
“And as he sat at table in the house [of Matthew], behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:9-11).
In Zeffirelli’s movie Jesus of Nazareth, Peter refuses to enter Matthew’s house. In fact, it is almost certain that the disciples rejected and avoided Matthew as much as other people did, because in the four gospels Matthew never speaks up. His silence is very eloquent, when we are reminded of his incredible mastery of Scripture and of the messianic prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His silence does not indicate a lack of commitment, as can be proven by the fact that he wrote the most meticulous and keen of the Synoptic Gospels. He is someone who is alert, who absorbs everything he hears and sees, and mentally collates it with his knowledge about the one who was to come.

In my opinion, the hardest conversion in the group of the Twelve is that of this shy, silent man. Rich and rejected at once – this is a mixture that leads to deep bitterness. We can see that all around us. He was possibly disgusted at himself. And now he finds himself surrounded by a group of patriots, whose involvement goes from supporters or sympathizers of the revolution, such as Peter, James, Andrew and John, to the case of Simon the Zealot, one of the guerrilla fighters of those days, whose change in heart must have been very slow.

Behind the face of someone who is able to take such an immediate and hard step, and able to endure for years such an unequal relationship, there can only be a man with very deep convictions, with very firm decisions, and with a great devotion for his Master.

It is my conviction that the thing that changed Matthew’s heart forever was the response Jesus gave that day: “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Thomas, the Twin
Let’s now talk about Thomas. For many he is the unbeliever in the group. We may change our minds once we get to know him.

Thomas is a valiant, aggressive man, which is not often the case in men that have no faith. Shortly before Jesus’ triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, his enemies have already made the decision to kill Jesus, and the apostles get wind. They are informed about Lazarus’ death, and Jesus decides to go to Bethany, which is very close to Jerusalem. “Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (John 11:16). When things are clear, Thomas does not hesitate.

But there is an incident which reflects the fact that he is someone who needs clear explanations. Says Jesus in John 14:2-5:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Let’s examine the scene. The Lord is announcing sublime things: he has to go soon to the Father’s house, that is, he is going to be killed. He wants his disciples to be with him for all eternity, and therefore he will come back and take them with himself. At a moment like that there is one, like many I know, who interrupts the talk at its peak, and says, “Hold it! Take it easy and explain. Leave poetry aside. Tell me how things really are.” This is Thomas. It is not that he does not believe; it is rather that he likes to grasp things with their name. In times of danger, it is unnamed things that are most harmful.

I am not going to contradict my Lord, who is the first one to call Thomas an unbeliever. I agree, Thomas is not credulous like Philip, who, when he first hears the statement, “We have found the Messiah!”, he is persuaded right there that, whoever this So-and-so is that they found, he must be the expected Messiah. But Thomas is not an unbeliever, nor is he more an incredulous than the rest. Jesus called Peter “man of little faith”. Neither did Peter or John believe Mary the Magdalene, or Joan, or Mary the mother of James, the story of the empty tomb (Luke 24:9), and if they run to look for evidence it is precisely to persuade themselves. Neither did they believe the men from Emmaus; in fact, they were debating about that when Jesus appeared to them.(Lk. 24:36).

In John 20:19 Jesus appears before his disciples, and Thomas is not there. The only thing the others say is, “We have seen the Lord!” That was the same thing the three crazy women had said when they came with their story on Easter Sunday. And Thomas’ response is, “Come on! Did he die, or didn’t he? If he died then he’s dead, and therefore, unless I stick my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe that he’s alive, because there’s no one who can be alive after that kind of death. And if he’s not alive he’s dead. Period.”

It is not that he doesn’t believe that the others saw Jesus. I believe there are people who have seen flying saucers. What I don’t believe in is the flying saucers. It’s the same with Thomas. In his mental categories there is simply no room for the concept of resurrection. And that’s fully understandable. No one had risen from the dead like that before, nor has risen afterwards. John needed a special vision to understand it:
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18).
The idea of resurrection finds no room in the minds of the other apostles either. Luke says that, startled and frightened, they thought they were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:37). And that’s a different thing. The idea that when we die there is some part of us that remains for ever was accepted by the Jewish people. But the idea of the resurrection of the flesh is a different thing. The statement of the angel at the garden, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, he is risen!” (that is, he had died, but now lives), is totally new.

It is not a matter of, “we do not die completely, but something remains”. Much less, “we thought he had died, but it seems it was not so.” But rather, “he died truly, and was completely dead. R.I.P. Corpse. Cold tomb. Now he is risen and is completely alive in body and soul and divinity.” John says this quite clearly in John 20:8:
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
All the others also needed to touch him before they believed. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). And Luke says that even so they had a hard time believing.

Thomas’ faith was already staggering, as is shown by the fact that the preceding Sunday he didn’t even show up at the gathering. Now they come to Thomas with the story that they had the doors closed, that Jesus appeared among them going through the walls, and that then he disappeared. “No kidding! Now tell me the one about Little Red Riding Hood.” It is not that he does not believe that he was there and that they saw him. It is rather that he does not understand something he has no reason to understand. We ourselves don’t understand it yet. And Thomas is the kind of man who needs to understand.

Doubting Thomaqs
                          meets the resurrected Jesus

What now takes place is truly unbelievable! The man who used not to believe in resurrection now proclaims, after he has touched Jesus’ flesh, now believes in something one thousand times harder to believe: “My Lord and my God!” He now believes in a God who is flesh and bone! He believes in a man who is God and a God who is a man, flesh and bone just like us. Nobody up to that point had believed such a stupid idea. Gods who disguise themselves as men, like Zeus, yes. Men sent by God? As many as you may want! Men who are demi-gods, surely. Sons of God? Blasphemy! They condemned the Nazarene precisely because he asserted that about himself. But true God from true God, begotten and therefore flesh, but not made, of the same being as the Father, and yet like unto us in everything except in sin... never!

It is possible that at that very time Thomas was able to understand where we are going and what is the way.
“And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” He who used not to believe was beyond doubt the first one to understand the reason of our hope.
The Unknown Ones
We are running out of time, so I will say a couple of things about James the Lesser, Simon the Zealot and Jude Thaddaeus.

The gospels say nothing about James the Lesser, except that he was a cousin of Jesus, the son of another Mary, a sister of the mother of Jesus. We have a letter by him that gives us a picture of his heart, but which I have no time to comment on right now. He hates envy, gossiping and lies, and loves mercy and understanding.

Even less do we know about Jude Thaddaeus, the younger brother of this James, and therefore also a cousin of Jesus. A letter is also ascribed to him, which shows that he was a deep-hearted man.

Darkness also covers Simon the Zealot, or Simon the Cananaean, the surnames being synonyms that express his belonging to the most revolutionary Jewish group in the times of Jesus.

kiss of Judas, by
                          James Tissot
The Traitor
And with this we come to Judas Iscariot. We can believe that also Judas was a revolutionary. Some think that his surname “Iscariot” is not derived from “Sichar”, which could indicate his origin, but from sicarius, a kind of knife or dagger used by the Zealots of that time.

We already know that he was fond of money, and that he protests when the repentant woman sinner wastes away (in his view) an extremely valuable ointment (about $70 USA tax free) whose value could have been given to the poor. John says he was a thief, that he managed the group’s funds. And he sold Jesus.

But it is right here that things don’t seem to fit well. Someone who knows the price of things, and who is ambitious, will not send a man as dangerous as Jesus for thirty silver coins, which was the price of an ordinary slave. Nor will he throw away the money at the temple afterwards.

Almost all Scripture exegetes agree that he joined Jesus, like almost all the others, with a political messianism in mind. That his disappointment grew gradually as he saw Jesus take a different road. In the last few days Jesus did nothing but announce his own death, and a dead Messiah is no use... except perhaps as a very timely martyr. There are some who believe, and they may be right, that Judas’ intention in facilitating the death of Jesus was to kindle the spark that would provoke the revolution, as we had in Nicaragua with the death of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro.

Final Considerations

The figure of Judas serves for us to close this reflection with something that is valid for all.

Christ chose Judas just like he chose the others. And he chose him so that he would become one of the twelve pillars of his kingdom. He chose him after having spent a whole night in prayer, and he did so because he expected him to be so and because he knew he was able to. It was not destiny, much less Christ himself, that made Judas a traitor. It was Judas who chose to betray. And even after his betrayal has been made known, Christ continues to call him “Friend.”

Jesus chose him in hope, knowing that out of him, just as out of any of the others, a saint or a traitor could come out. And that is the notion I wanted to leave you with, for Jesus also chose all of you personally.

All Jesus’ chosen ones were raw diamonds. They had qualities and defects. Some had more, some had less. None of them had the stature to carry out the mission he entrusted to them. The Acts of the Apostles present them as illiterate and plebeians (Acts 4:13). In my opinion, the worst sign of their weakness does not lie in having allowed fear to overcome them, but in having allowed tiredness to overcome them – this tiredness that finds them asleep at the moment the Lord needs them most. One could say that the Lord chose them not because of what they were, but because of what they could become in his hands. Lest any man should boast, as Saint Paul would say.

And the same happens with everyone of us. Among us there are Peters and Andrews, Thomases and Philips, Nathanaels and Matthews, James and Johns, Simons the Zealots and Thaddeuses. We are all different, but there is something that is in all of us, and this is the terrible potential to become saints or traitors, as Judas.

May the mercy and the loyalty of this Lord who called us keep us always in his service, so that one day we will be able to share those twelve thrones, enjoy a hundredfold here on earth, and the eternal life he has prepared for us.
“And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” So be it!
> See other Living Bulwark articles by Carlos Mantica

This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica.

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995.

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