This is day four of a summer reading journey through the New Testament. You can begin today by getting the schedule here. Today’s reading is Matthew 10 through Matthew 12.
The first thought I had, today, was while reading Matthew 10, where Jesus calls the twelve disciples, naming them, and then giving them very intense instructions.
Matthew doesn’t give us much personal information on these twelve men. Most of what we know of them comes from other gospels. Matthew doesn’t seem to have much time for that, and instead focuses on their future mission, more so than their past identities.
But just a casual reading through Matthew 10 is almost frightening. Jesus tells them they will “raise the dead,” that they will go out “like sheep among wolves,” that they will be handed over to “local councils” where they will be beaten and flogged and arrested. They will be hated, and will endure multiple persecutions. Families will be divided because of their mission, and, ultimately, they will be accused of following the prince of demons.
Would you agree to this?
Which begs the next question: who would willingly agree to this?
Our simple little children’s song, which names the twelve apostles, is nice and sweet. Perhaps we should add a second verse that includes the horror of their calling.
Though Matthew doesn’t tell us much about these men, we do know that a few were fishermen. Consider the life they left.
Fishermen, in the Roman world, were part of a state-controlled enterprise. They paid large amounts of revenue back to the state, which would then pay revenue back to the Roman Empire. Every person in the chain of taxation received their due share. Ancient records indicate these rulers, from the Herods, to the Caesars, were incredibly wealthy, due, in great part, to the taxes paid by smaller industries in varying regions. Fishing was but one of those industries.
Yet there were probably guilds, or cooperatives, where groups of family fishing industries could withstand, together, the local taxes imposed. It is safe to assume that Peter, Andrew, James, and John were part of something like this.
Had they remained in their profession, their lives would have remained incredibly controlled, ordered, and predictable. They would have been bound by the seasons of the year, and dependent upon weather. They would have known which months would be best, and which months would be wet and rainy. They would have attended guild meetings, to battle price-fixing. They would have made agreements with local tax-collectors concerning their revenue. They would have either bought their own boats, or leased them from the government-controlled harbors. And they may have made enough money to hire a servant or two along the way.
In other words, they would have been businessmen for life. And without a great amount of social mobility, they would have never done anything different. Add to this the fact that, through the Jewish education, they were, for the most part, already overlooked for a rabbinical position. They weren’t intelligent enough, according to those schooling standards, to become a Jewish rabbi, and were sent back home, and back to the family business, by the time they were twelve-years-old.
So Jesus offers them something different. The substance of their lives is no longer about money and business, but about something far greater, and far more terrifying. They will travel, speak, be abused, neglected, hungry, arrested, beaten, and divisive. They were called to exchange comfort and predictability for a far greater mission. This is when they become fishers of men.
It is a very different life.
There is one more consideration, though. Matthew never tells us, at the end of Matthew 10, that they actually begin this mission. We assume they do, because we see these twelve disciples again in Matthew 12. Matthew leaves this calling open, and he does so on purpose.
He is telling every reader of his gospel that this is the mission for every one of Jesus’ followers. Not just these twelve.
Which means this is the same mission for both me and you.
Thanks for reading. Click here for a list of all the blogs through these ninety days.