Selecting the Apostles

The time has come to ask ourselves how the companions of Jesus were recruited and called. For out of hundreds of men won over by his teaching, healings, and expressions of intimacy with his Father, he chose only a small number of close friends.

These close companions were all mature men, except perhaps for someone like John who seems to have been younger (he was probably around twenty or so). They all had an occupation, with all its responsibilities and risks. They were all involved in the great problems of their people and their time. Before choosing them, Jesus spent a night in prayer and reflection atop a mountain in order to indicate that God directed this choice.

The elect were all from the region of Galilee; but from very different, even conflicting, classes and mentalities. Peter, Andrew, James, and John all formed his first small group, to which later were added Phillip and Bartholomew-Nathaniel, also found around John the Baptist. On the side of the ardent nationalists there were many zealots (“terrorists” we would call them today), that is to say, fierce partisans for national independence who pushed for a war of liberation— carried out essentially through assassinations—against the occupying army; here were found Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot. Several others, on the contrary, were “collaborators” in the real sense of the word; they believed in a negotiated settlement with the Romans occupying the country, and therefore profited from the existing regime: men like Matthew the publican and maybe the other James who could have been his brother. There was also Thomas who we know was very down to earth but not too caught up in things; he always demanded proof, to be able to see things with his own eyes before believing them. Finally, there was a certain Thaddeus whose name might signify “the man with guts,” which was perhaps a surname to indicate that this was a giant of a man with great physical strength.

In brief, this was a collection of restless and stubborn Galileans who could probably never agree on anything. They sometimes even fought among themselves over questions of rank and prestige.

But it would be a mistake to think that they were mostly ignorant country bumpkins. Jesus could certainly have chosen either beggars or aristocrats to accompany him; but for the most part he chose men from between the extremes, men who had an occupation, had had some schooling, were very interested in politics and business, knew their Bible and had a religious sense.