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Matthew 09:35-10:4 He sends the Apostles among the sheep that have no shepherd


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 had become self-centred, Jesus felt pity for the abandoned people and said they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he asked his disciples to pray for a slew of 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 with the twelve apostles his mission to preach, the power to cast out demons, and the capacity to heal the sick.

Jesus used two comparisons of the then pastoral situation: (1) The people were like sheep without a shepherd; (2) The harvest was plenty, and the labourers were few. By the sacraments of initiation, all of us are called to be shepherds in our own respective situations. Let us make good the shortage of shepherds by ministering to the pastoral needs of our family, our Christian community, and the non-Christians around us. The crops will be wasted if there are fewer labourers. Let us do our part in terms of Christian witnessing, promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, fostering of training for lay ministry, and supporting 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 (chh 5-7), people approached Jesus for healing and other favours from him. In chapter eight, he healed a leper (vv 1-4), a centurion’s servant (vv 5-13), Peter’s mother-in-law (vv 14-15), drove out demons from many demoniacs and cured all the sick who came to him (vv 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 (vv 1-8). When Jesus dined at the house of Levi, the Pharisees taunted him for eating with tax collectors and sinners (vv 9-13). The disciples of John asked Jesus why his disciples were not fasting while they and the Pharisees were fasting (vv 14-17). Jesus raised an official’s daughter from death (vv 18-26), he healed a woman suffering from a haemorrhage for 12 years when she touched the tassel of his cloak (vv 20-22), and he healed two blind men who addressed him as ‘Son of David’ (vv 27-31). Then he cured a demoniac who was mute. Matthew then summarizes, “Jesus went around 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 teaching sessions 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 the Scribes were self-centred and had abandoned their flock.

The Compassion of Jesus

Jesus went around all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom, and he cured every sickness and every disease (Mt 9:35).

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages

Though Jesus centred his ministry in Capernaum, he went to all residential areas in Galilee (Mt 4:23; Mk 1:39). In his travelling ministry, he preached and healed the sick in the fortified cities and open villages. That helped him feel the pulse of the local populace and understand the pathetic situation they were in because of poverty, sickness, hopelessness, negligence on the part of religious leaders, and the spiritual misguidance they had endured.

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 traditions, there were assemblies of Jews for prayer (1 Sam 1:9-19) and the study of the 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 major feasts. All the above can be true. But what matters most is that the synagogues served also as community centres with provisions for gatherings, education, courtroom, charity works, and prayer halls.

Even after the construction of the second Temple, the synagogues continued to hold 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 AD, the synagogues became more significant in terms of keeping the dispersed Jewish communities intact. The synagogues had morning, afternoon, and evening services. There were special religious services on the Sabbath and on the occasions of religious festivals. Since synagogues had no sacrifices per se, priests were no more needed, 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 honourable seat called “Moses’ Seat” was placed for Torah readers because they were reading Moses’ words (Mt 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 basis of the scripture text for the day. Jesus also preached 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 kingdom of God” through the 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 fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15) On the basis of 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” (Rom 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 consequences. 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 face 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, more people came seeking his care. Because of his divinity, Jesus could cure all types of sicknesses. 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 the sufferings of the people even by raising the dead. He showed that religion comprises action-based love. That was in contrast to the religious leaders of the time who disregarded the poor and the suffering.

(36) When he saw the crowds he was moved with pity, for they were harassed and helpless 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 ease 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 took 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 helped the helpless without their request for a favour –
(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 had 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) He fed the 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 the Scribes looked with contempt at Jesus because he did those on a Sabbath or because he forgave the sins of the sick, which according to his opponents was blasphemy. They even plotted to assassinate him for these reasons.

The motivation for our service must come from the 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-centred faith. He substituted the Jewish religion with Christianity to offer service from the heart.

because they were troubled and abandoned

While traversing 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 proper way to practise 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, 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 Bible compared the relationship between God and Israel 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” (Ps 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” (Ezek 34:2-6). “The lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, leading them astray on the mountains; from mountain to hill they wandered, forgetting their fold” (Jer 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 (Jer 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” (Ezek 34:11). Jesus, the Son of God, came as a shepherd to his sheep, Israel (Jn 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 workers are few.”

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

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 saved them by selecting dedicated labourers, training them, and assigning them for faithful service. They would replace the irresponsible and unfaithful leaders of Israel.

(38) “Ask the master of the harvest therefore to send workers to gather his harvest.”

John the Baptist as well as Jesus Christ had been preaching and baptizing many people in preparation 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 shepherded into his sheepfold from all the nations of the world.

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

The Mission of the Twelve

(Mt 10:1) Then he called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

Then he summoned his twelve disciples

Jesus had already selected his 12 apostles (Lk 6:13) who 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 hardly any education, reputation or social status. Jesus chose the weak to manifest God’s power through them.

The number 12 denotes their ministrations as meant 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 the 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. Like Jesus, the apostles too could drive them out. Those freed from Satan’s bondage could receive Jesus and reach heaven after their earthly lives. 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 diseases and illnesses. That was to supplement their preaching of the Kingdom of God and to prove to the public that God it was who had sent them. Like Jesus, the apostles also could ease suffering and save souls, and thus gain public attention.

The apostles could practise 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) These are the names of the twelve apostles: first Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew;

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 from 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. It was in the context of their prominence in the new Kingdom established by Jesus that the evangelists have 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 the general public for the extension and continuation of his mission. The early Church later applied the term apostle to other prominent leaders of the Church, like 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 twelve, except Judas Iscariot who was from Judea, 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 about to establish. And because of their misunderstanding of it, they were found fighting for positions! The common belief of the time was that the Messiah would establish an earthly Kingdom of God. But within three years, Jesus reformatted the minds of the apostles according to his vision of the kingdom. Being openminded about vision, all of them, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and continued the mission of Jesus. They faced persecution for promulgating the Church, and all of them, except John the Evangelist, ended up as martyrs.

The following are the common features of the 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, Nathanael, and Philip were also engaged in fishing (Jn 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), when he was Transfigured high up a mountain (Mt 17:1), and during his agony in Gethsemane (Mt 26:37).
4. There were three pairs with the same first names: James son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus, Judas Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot, and Simon Peter and Simon the Canaanean.
5. Peter, Nathanael (Bartholomew), and Thomas professed their faith in Jesus.
6. Matthew and John wrote the gospels. Mark and Luke were not among the twelve 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 lists the 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 the first because of his pre-eminence among those in the College of Apostles. He had the privilege of hosting Jesus at his house while Jesus centred his ministry in Capernaum. Peter made the profession of faith 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, more than those of any other apostle, are recorded in the New Testament more than any other apostle. Though he denied Jesus no less than three times during the horrendous trial faced by Jesus, he compensated it by expressing his love of Jesus three times at the Lord’s post-resurrection appearance (Jn 21:15-17). In each of these, Jesus asked him to feed and nurture his sheep.

and his brother Andrew

Matthew lists Andrew immediately after Peter because he was the brother of Simon Peter and the first disciple of 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!” (Jn 1:35-37). Andrew enthusiastically introduced Jesus to his brother Simon Peter (Jn 1:40-42). Compared to Simon, Andrew was a reserved person. However, he was enthusiastic 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 of 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 in 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. Beheaded by King Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem in 42 AD, 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 cite his name immediately after that of James. Jesus had asked Peter and John to prepare for the observance of the Passover for him 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 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 on the Island of Patmos. He had a natural death at Ephesus in 100 AD and was the only apostle who died of natural causes.

James and John had common characteristics. Jesus called both while fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus nicknamed them ‘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, to be in his innermost circle, thereby achieving prominence among the apostles. After Pentecost, their zeal turned to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, dedicating their lives to it.

(3) James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, the publican; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

Philip

Philip was from Bethsaida, the same town as of Andrew and Peter (Jn 1:44) and was probably 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?” (Jn 6:5).

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). Nathanael’s response to Jesus was a virtual ‘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 were trying to discourage Jesus from going back to Judaea to see the sick Lazarus saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (Jn 11:8). Contrarily, Thomas encouraged them, asserting, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). However, Thomas was not present at the crucifixion of Jesus. He even doubted the resurrection of Jesus when the other disciples said that they had seen the Risen Lord, in the process, earning the nickname “Doubting Thomas”! However, he expressed his fervent faith in the Lord by declaring before Jesus, “My Lord and My God” (Jn 20:28) when Jesus appeared to the group of disciples again the following Sunday in his presence!

Matthew, the tax collector

Matthew, also known as Levi, was the son of Alphaeus, 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 the Romans who were their pagan oppressors. The Jews hated tax collectors as they brazenly exploited people by demanding unjust amounts of money 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 went a step further: he selected one such hated “criminal” and made him his apostle! Indeed, when Jesus called Levi, he gave up 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 prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

James, son of Alphaeus

James, 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, son of Zebedee, who followed Jesus before him. 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, which 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 rule 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 Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the man 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 worked his first miracle. Cananean is the Hebrew word for the Greek, zealot. He must be a member of the zealot group before joining the Jesus’ band. The zealots were revolutionaries battling against the Roman rule. Their revolt against Rome ended up in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Unlike Matthew, who was pro-Roman, Simon was anti-Roman. Jesus chose both with and despite their opposing views to be part of his group and made them people of true faith.

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him

Judas was from Judaea 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 well-wishers. 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.

There are some who aver that Judas was a zealot who 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 that the Jews had condemned Jesus to death, he was filled with remorse, regretting deeply what he had done (Mt 27:3). He might have assumed that since Jesus had escaped previous assassination attempts, he might do the same when Judas would betray him. However, Jesus’ time had arrived. And Judas’ attempt to return the money to the chief priests and elders did not help to ease the situation and 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. His attempts to remedy the ensuing state of affairs having failed, Judas 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. Evidently, because of Judas’ negative characteristics, the evangelists mention him last in the list of the apostles.

MESSAGE

1. Jesus felt pity for the suffering and the abandoned. How do we feel about the sick, the suffering, the disabled, and those who have lost their Christian faith? Are we helping them from our heart? God said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 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. We Christians must “witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (CCC-1316). Are we accomplishing this in our individual 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 hospitals, and so on.

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

6. There are full-time pastors and missionaries whom God 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 being carried out.

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


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