” One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, udas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:12-16)
Jesus chose a strange bunch of people, didn’t he? Someone once suggested to me that He might have got a better selection by throwing darts at a phone book. But Mark’s parallel has an important point:
“And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him.” (Mark 3:13)
He called the ones he wanted. And they responded. These were the men he chose, and these were the men who changed the world. We are here today because of that odd choice of people.
And I can only conclude that the principle is: Whatever God does, he does in spite of us, not because of us.
Luke’s account has three significant verbs that makes this principle crystal clear: He CALLS… He CHOOSES… He DESIGNATES.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were manual labourers. They were fishermen. They worked with their hands. They were nothing special. They did not have a great deal of education.
Levi, or Matthew, was a tax collector. He may have had a little more education, and certainly more money, but he was a total outsider. Even today, it’s hard to find those with a soft spot for tax collectors. And in the time of Jesus, he was lumped in with sinners of all sorts. These were the untouchables of that society. When Levi threw a party to celebrate Jesus’ role in his life, the scandal hit the news.
So who didn’t Jesus choose? He didn’t choose the posh, the educated, the higher social classes, the scribes or Pharisees.
The sort of people that a Jewish mother would have been glad for her daughter to marry.
But when the gospels werewritten, maybe the projected audience would identify with the odd choice. Many would be labourers or slaves or outsiders. They would feel a kinship with the disciples that “Hey, these people that Jesus called are just like we are. If they could do this, can’t we? It doesn’t take someone super-smart. It doesn’t take special training; you don’t have to be well-off or well-connected. No celebrities need apply! All you need is to have faith in Jesus and walk in his way and do his will. We can do this!”
Maybe that odd choice is not so odd after all.
Even the stories that Jesus told are geared towards an explanation of that odd choice. Think of the stories about putting a new patch on old cloth, or new wine in old wineskins. The scribes and the Pharisees were the old garments or the old wine skins. They were simply not able to accept the new teaching. They were stubborn and hide-bound, and unyielding. But the common people “heard him gladly.” They realized their need and they were willing to receive what he said. Or give it a shot, at least.
Remember Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.” Elsewhere it’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit” but these phrases are two parts of the same thing. The poor and the disadvantaged have a hunger for Jesus that the rich or the well-placed do not. The ones that are poor in spirit have the attitude that they have a need to be filled of Christ. James developed the idea, years later: “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5).
This is along the same lines when you think of the poor in terms of money, or poor in terms of spirit. Those are the people that respond best to the call of Jesus Christ.
It is very interesting to go through Mark and see how many times the phrase “great multitude” is mentioned. There were crowds of people following him at all times, and out of the great multitude that followed him, he chose only twelve.
Perhaps it’s not the calibre of the men chosen, so much as the nature of what happened next. That is to say: they responded! A little later, there’s a suggestion of this:
“Then his brothers and his mother came, and standing outside they sent to him, calling him. And a crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you.” But he answered them saying, “Who is my mother or my brothers?” And he looked around in a circle at those who sat about him, and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-33 )
Jesus is putting together an entirely new family. It is not connected by a shared blood relationship, but by a shared obedience of God’s will. That is, the one who does what the Father wants him to do is the one who is Jesus’ brother. This new family is unified by love, justice and mercy. And love is an active verb. Let’s go; do stuff; do the work. Do what Jesus did. Do what pleases him, as he himself sought to please the Father.
Again, this is very comforting to us faith-beginners (whether those of first century Rome or 21st century Ireland. Blood and status count for nada in the new family. Faith and obedience to the will of God brings inclusion, acceptance, and ultimately glory.
And thus the life of God is brought into the possibility of man.
I can do it. With God’s help. I need not be rich or famous, nor have degrees coming out of my ears, nor even be the Right Sort of middle-class paragon.
I need to believe. I need to do God’s will. And He chooses me.
It’s an odd choice, but He’s sticking to it.