Word Magazine June 1985 Page 31-32
REFLECTIONS ON THE WORD OF GOD
“Apostolic Living — 1: Empowered Disciples”
Matthew 10: 1-8 in Three Parts
Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas
“And he called to him his twelve disciples . . .“ These are the beginning words of the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The chapter speaks of the disciples Jesus had chosen to be His special helpers, and to whom He was eventually going to give the commission to “Go into all the world,” to preach the Gospel and to establish His Church. In the verses of Chapter 10 which follow this passage, Jesus gives much counsel to the Twelve on how to behave both in reference to those who welcome them and their message, and those who reject them and their message. But, in these eight verses, Jesus was not speaking of the worldwide apostolic mission. This mission was like a trial run. It was a test preaching, limited in many ways. And yet within its limited scope, Jesus was preparing His disciples for their world-wide mission. In a real sense, as well, Jesus was also giving a model for the rest of us. For, we too, in our own way are His disciples. We will look at these eight verses in the next three issues. In this month’s column we will examine verses I through 4 to see what they have to say to us.
JESUS EMPOWERS THE TWELVE
The chapter begins with these words:
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every disease and every infirmity.
As the passage indicates, Jesus had already chosen these twelve to be his special followers. The power which He gave them was similar to His own. In chapter nine of Matthew we read, “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity” (v. 35). So, Jesus was preparing them to assume His work when He was gone and the Holy Spirit was to be granted to them “in power” to assume the saving work of the Church. We should note that Jesus had the power because of who He was. The disciples did not have it, and could not have it on their own. They could not “earn” it. It was given to them by Christ. It was a gift.
“Unclean spirits,” have to do with whatever is evil and demonic. Jesus was giving to them the authority and power to dispel the presence and effect of evil powers, evil dispositions and evil motivations wherever they encountered them. They were given the power of healing “every illness and every infirmity.” The Fathers of the Church discern that the reason for the gift of this healing power was to help convince others of the truth of the message the disciples were preaching. It was the same message that Jesus preached — the good news of the Kingdom of God. One commentator, Theophylaktos, says, “He gives to them the power of miracles, so that they might impress those whom they would teach, thus making His audience receptive to the teaching.”
There is a real sense in which all of us ordinary Christians are also disciples of the Lord. Not, of course, of the same rank with the Twelve, but disciples, nevertheless. Through our baptism, our chrismation, our reception of the Eucharist, and our membership in the Body of Christ, the Church, we too, are followers of Christ. Whatever spiritual, moral and practical power we have against the evil in our lives is also a gift from Him. But whatever it is which we accomplish, is not for our own benefit, but that the name of God might be praised, and the message of the Lord believed. If we call ourselves followers of the Lord — Christians — but we display little or none of the power of faith, then we cannot convince others of the truth of our religion.
THE DISCIPLES NAMED
In verses 2 to 4 Matthew gives us, for the first time, the names of the twelve disciples:
Peter and Andrew, James the son of Zebedee and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot.
There are some interesting things to note about them. First, except for the first four, we know very little about them. The Apostles themselves were not anywhere near as important as their task. They were “Apostles,” precisely because they were “sent out” (that’s what the Greek means) to preach and heal and fight evil and work for the establishment of the Kingdom. The important thing was the work. Secondly, they were all very different kinds of people. We often think of them as fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. But the others did other things — Matthew was a tax-collector; scholars think that Simon the Cananaean was probably originally a Zealot, a kind of political revolutionary. Each had something different to contribute. Thirdly, these men were quite ordinary. They did not have wealth, nor were they highly educated. They held no worldly power. They had many human weaknesses. Peter denied the Lord three times; James and John egotistically sought “first seats” in the Kingdom; the rest were resentful of them; Judas betrayed the Lord; all of them ran away when Jesus was captured and condemned. Yet, God forgave them, and empowered them through the Holy Spirit to become the great leaders of the Church, spreading it throughout the world.
If it is true that you and I are disciples today, even as mere shadows of the Apostles, the same things hold true of you and me. In the Kingdom, to be sure, the Lord knows us by name, just as He knew the Twelve by name. But they were important because of their mission and their calling. So it is with us in the church. So often we do “Church work,” so that we will be “noticed,” so that people will pay attention to us and “give us credit.” When we do that we are missing the main point. It is the task that is important. For even the most menial and insignificant “Church work” we do is for the advancement of His Kingdom. Let that be enough for us. The fact that all the Apostles were different points to the truth that we too are all people of different abilities and backgrounds, all of us with special talents to contribute to the Kingdom. We don’t have to be high and mighty, wealthy or educated, especially talented or intelligent to contribute to the work of the Kingdom. We are all called to serve with whatever talents we have.