Jesus Appoints the Twelve
13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Jesus chose twelve people to be his apostles, to be his closest band of disciples, those who would do what he did. Those who would learn from him closely, like the disciples of a great artist or a great violin maker; those who would watch and listen and listen and watch and become like the one that they were following.
There is a great tradition of rabbis doing this, of training others to follow in their footsteps, but first they had to make it all the way through school.
The Jewish people sent their boys to school. They would memorise the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…. all off by heart. This was called Beit Sefer. At the age of 10 the best ones would stay on at school, those who had managed this feat. However, most would go off and learn their father’s trade at that point. I think Jesus was still at school aged 12, because we learn about his visit to the Temple, when he was left behind, and how amazed the rabbis were amazed at his questions and his understanding. Presumably he was asking them about the scriptures.
Those that stayed would go on to memorise the rest of the Hebrew scriptures – Genesis all the way through Malachi, off by heart. This was called Beit Talmud. They would stay at school until they were fourteen or fifteen, and then most would go and learn their father’s trade. However, the very best, who had accomplished this would carry on with their learning. I imagine it was many, a tiny percentage.
These few would go and find a rabbi and become a disciple – I disciple doesn’t just want to know what the rabbi know he want to be like the rabbi is. This was called Beit Midrash. Now the rabbis had different understandings of the scriptures, different interpretations, and that rabbi’s teachings were known as that rabbi’s ‘yoke’. So if you wanted to follow a particular rabbi, you wanted to take on that particular ‘yoke’. So, aged fifteen a boy would find a rabbi and go for an interview. He would be grilled, and at this point most would fail, however, if they were really impressive, then the rabbi would say ‘come and follow me’. And then the kid would leave his family and his village and his friends. Each rabbi would travel, and go from town to town, teaching the scriptures, followed by his disciples. By the end of the day the disciples would be covered in whatever the rabbis would have stepped in. And so there was a saying ‘may you covered in the dust of your rabbi’.
I believe this is what happened to Jesus. I don’t think he was ever a carpenter. He was the best of the best of the best at school – he knew and understood the scriptures like no other lad. I believe he left Nazareth aged fifteen, and he was a disciple until he was thirty, which is the age at which they were expected to find their own disciples.
However, when Jesus called his disciples, he called fishermen like Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John. People that were no longer in school – they were learning their father’s trade – they were not the best of the best of the best.
In this passage Jesus chooses the twelve for three purposes:
1. to be with him
2. to send them out to preach
3. to drive out demons
There could only be twelve that were close enough to observe Jesus closely enough to become like him. To live with him, listen to him, watch him, be with him…. To do what he does. And then those twelve would make disciples, passing on the message, the “yoke”.
This has passed on to us now. We are called to be with Jesus. We have the ability to be with him through the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Scriptures. But we also need to learn from each other, learn from those in whom we can see God acting. In each community of Christians we all have gifts and we can learn so much from each other, if we are close enough and real enough and open enough.
It is a tremendous honour to be disciples of Jesus. Let’s see if we together can be covered in the dust of our rabbi Jesus, let’s see if we together can be transformed such that we can know Jesus and do what he does.
Note: much of this comes from Rob Bell’s Nooma video “Dust”
- Sermon – John 1:43-end (again) – Lesley (parishsermons.wordpress.com)