TMOC 7: All in the Family
We know Jesus possessed a prophetic insight. Some of His decisions arise directly from that, but this does not remove the purely human motives which surely fed into some of those choices. Too often Western Christians paint the scenes of the Gospels too much as miracles, when the context itself was usually more than sufficient explanation.
Jesus dealt with real people, and His moral genius made Him realize human foibles on a level few could approach. He took these things for granted, even when it was personally frustrating. For example, almost everyone He encountered had bought into some measure of the false Messianic Expectations, and people were constantly missing the point of what He said. At times, He seemed blissfully unconcerned, because He knew after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit would correct a lot of false understandings they had. Still, there were so many times the utter lack of spiritual perspective, how so much simply flew right over their heads as they stared uncomprehendingly at Him, it broke His heart.
He chose people knowing their flaws, knowing He had to deal with them, and the vast ocean of false understanding in the world around Him. People seem utterly surprised He would sometimes take advantage of their weakness, not to harm them, but to keep the mission on track. Some people were more reliable in their failures than in their virtues, and He used this to good advantage in some places. For all the prophetic insight He had, there was nothing to prevent Him using that insight in very human ways. Not everything was a miracle.
The other thing most surprising to people is how many of Jesus’ relatives were involved in the Gospel accounts. In Hebrew society, it was taken for granted a man who had an entourage always included a large percentage of close kin, so the Gospel accounts hardly mention it. It’s almost by accident we learn among the Twelve were probably five cousins. With this is the natural expectation there were already strong emotional bonds. Some of the recorded conversations and interactions take on a new meaning when we realize these people already knew Him quite well on a mere human level.
His forerunner, John the Baptist, was a cousin, of course. Each knew very well the other’s calling, and had obviously discussed these things at length prior to Jesus’ ritual announcement of His ministry at John’s riverside camp. His prophetic calling simply confirmed what John knew in the flesh, that his cousin was the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and all that came with that. John took his calling seriously, not himself, so the idea of being displaced in the public attention by Jesus was the whole point. John also realized almost everyone crowding his camp did so with failed understanding and, too often, with moral insincerity. His late query of Jesus from prison seeking confirmation was preparation for his impending death. He honestly faced his execution as a relief, in some ways.
Every active preacher, prophet and rabbi was likely to have an entourage of apprentices and servants, all volunteers. John had some, moved in part to invest time in shadowing John through general piety, but also because they sensed this might put them close to the promised Messiah. They wanted to be involved at almost any cost, and in whatever capacity was offered. After John’s testimony about Jesus, some of his disciples switched to following Jesus. As previously noted, no one should be surprised this included rather close relatives.
Some of the Twelve loom large enough in the Gospels, one way or another, to become significant figures for us. Some remain in the background. Keep in mind, most of them had been hanging out with Him on a part-time basis already. The call of the Twelve was a change in daily occupation to full-time discipleship. Many more than this dozen continued following Him around, and they had to make a concerted effort to get together in private. A surprising number in this crowd were rather wealthy, giving financial support in keeping with the Law.
We know Matthew and his brothers, James the Lesser and Thaddeus, were first cousins of Jesus through Mary. Matthew was valuable on the human level as record keeper and translator, but it his likely access to Roman authorities didn’t hurt. The symbolism of choosing someone from so popularly hated a profession should be obvious, as a pointed rejection of the damaged and perverted moral sense of the Jewish social leaders. Not mentioned directly is, in the popular mind, if Jesus were the real Messiah, He would have surely struck dead folks like Matthew for treason in working with the oppressors of His Nation.
The sons of Zebedee, James and John, are also considered traditionally as cousins of Jesus. John was apparently the closest friend Jesus had. John displayed a remarkable moral sensitivity, which had to appeal to Jesus’ sense of loneliness in this crazy world. These two were business partners with Peter and Andrew, and we should expect they were probably distant relatives, too.
Peter was the eventual leader, as would naturally be the case, since he was the oldest of the Twelve. This makes Peter a particular focus of attention, and we see more of his unique character. He had all the natural confidence in the world, but didn’t know himself well enough to keep from frequently appearing a blustering fool. When Jesus called him “the Rock” it was good for a snicker among the rest of the disciples, but a fitting introduction to the symbolic meaning of recognizing Him as the Messiah. For the stonemason Jesus, Peter in his confession was a good solid block firmly fixed on the foundation of truth. Many details in the narrative make no sense unless we imagine Peter as physically large and imposing. Though Jesus knew prophetically Peter was simply a good strong leader currently turned inside out, Peter also had some very useful social connections as a salesman for the fishing business.
Judas had a mission we know all too well, but in human terms, he was a highly competent organizer and manager over mundane details. Jesus knew prophetically he would pilfer the treasury, but that didn’t prevent the very sensible choice of giving him ready access for expenses. Simon the Zealot was the token political activist, almost the total opposite of Matthew. All them were probably inclined to varying degrees activism, prepared to take up arms in rebellion behind their Messiah. All of them suffered under the expectation this was all leading toward a political and perhaps military confrontation, if not with Roman officials, then with at least the Jewish political system. The rest are lesser known to us, but each served, if nothing else, as a representative sample of the wider population of the nation. This was a well rounded crew. Tradition indicates each served out his life in unique and exemplary ways, proving the rightness of choosing them.
It appears Jesus didn’t appoint the entire dozen all in short order, but continued gathering one or more at times as He went during the first few months of His ministry. He stopped at twelve full-timers simply because a larger group would have been unmanageable within the constraints of His mission.
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