On this beautiful Monday morning as I write I am looking forward to next Monday, the Feast of our Patron Saints Peter and Paul. It’s one of the ‘Red Letter’ days of the calendar when such ‘religious’ dates were noted in red print and more commonly observed.
We know quite a bit about Peter and Paul. How Peter was boisterous and impetuous, insightful on occasions, loyal, yet very human, sometimes afraid and sometimes acted in ways that he regretted. Paul – how zealous he was; firstly in his defence of the faith he knew and then protective and proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. I find what I think I know of Peter quite comforting; his humanity to get things wrong and to misinterpret, and yet to keep going. I also imagine Paul to be quite fiery and impatient with folk like me who take a long time to grow. He would be uncomfortable for me to be with, I would think – too intense, too learned and difficult to understand.
Peter and Paul were very different characters as are all the Saints, and indeed the saints. We can catch a glimpse of the Disciples – the twelve Jesus chose to be with him during those few short years of ministry – in the Gospels and The Acts of the Apostles. Here’s a thumb-nail picture.
Like Peter Andrew, James and John, were fishermen. Together they formed Jesus’ ‘inner circle’ becoming his closest companions. Andrew, the approachable and the go-between, was the brother of Peter; James and John, brothers and sons of Zebedee were fishermen too. They were nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’ perhaps because of their quick temper or their moody looks. They were also, seemingly, more ambitious than the others (Mk 10.35-40)
Philip, we can be fairly certain, was first a disciple of John the Baptiser. Jesus called him to join him along the Jordan. Philip was sincere and practical; it was he who spotted the boy with his loaves and fishes, to whom the Greeks came asking for an introduction to Jesus. It was Philip who invited Nathanael to ‘come and see’ Jesus. Nathanael was likely an orthodox Jew from his practice of ‘praying under a fig tree’. He is reputed to have travelled to India after the Resurrection where he was flayed alive!
Thomas, Didymus – the twin, was a loyal, practical, down-to-earth man; for him seeing-was-believing. He is often referred to as ‘doubting’ yet it is through our doubts, if we face them, that we are able to ask questions and grow in faith.
Matthew, of course, is ever known as the tax collector; one of a despised group of those who were seen as colluding with the Roman occupation. In the gospel he is a generous party host and had a great link with those on the edges, those with dubious pasts who were drawn to Jesus’ radical approach to the dignity and value of all people.
Simon the Zealot was, from the name, a religious and political dissenter. Zealots were a nationalist group and found a good deal of their support in Galilee. There may be a link here with Judas Iscariot who may also have been a zealot. This Judas has a very tarnished reputation but was it possible he was an impatient, passionately nationalistic man who tried to ‘force’ Jesus hand? Was he the only one in the group not to hail from Galilee (man of Judah), and thus be the outsider? Why did Jesus call Judas to follow him if there was no good in him?
Of James the son of Alphaeus and of Judas/Thaddaeus we can glean little but we can see that Jesus chose a very diverse group of individuals with quite different characters and talents whom to spend a significant period of time and trust the future of the work of spreading the Good News.
Jesus has chosen followers from that time to this. Those he has chosen are every bit as diverse as the first twelve. We should revel in that diversity of gifts and talents, character and temperament, shades of skin colouring and shape of eyes; revel in the fact that we are not clones, that we all have something to offer each other, our communities and the world in the further spreading of the Good News we hold precious, too precious to keep to ourselves.