To truly understand this passage we need to back up one verse where we read in part, “And he went up on the mountain….” (v. 13). Before starting anything, Jesus went away to pray. The mountain, which is used here to denote a place away from the rest of the crowd, was often a place that Jesus retreated to for prayer, silence, and refreshment.
And it was on this mountain that “he called to him those he wanted. And they came to him” (v. 13). He called the multitude, and from that multitude, he chose the twelve that he would train to take his message to the far reaches of the world.
They came from all different walks of life. For the most part, they were uneducated tradespeople, not the religious leaders or the uber-pious of the area. He did not call together a council of elders to discuss the plans and then develop a strategy for putting it forth. Nope, he called them together, and he taught them, by his example, what they were going to do when he had left them.
Matthew was a tax-collector and, therefore, an outcast; he was a renegade and a traitor to his fellow countrymen. Simon was called the Zealot, and the Zealots were a band of fiery, violent nationalists who were pledged even to murder and assassination to clear the country of the foreign domination. The one who was lost to patriotism and the fanatical patriot came together in that group. I can only imagine the conversations that those two must have had. Christianity began by insisting that the most diverse people should live and work together, putting aside their difference for the sake of the mission.
I find it interesting how the writer of this Gospel gives the list of the 12 but, at the end of the list, there is Judas, “who also betrayed him” (v. 19). Jesus chose Judas, and I believe, knowing full well that he would betray him. Jesus wanted the ones he chose specifically for the mission, and Judas’ purpose was to betray him. It is also telling that at the Last Supper, Judas was present and Judas participated in that meal so, as you see, everyone is welcome even those who will betray him.
But the significance of this passage is in the fact that what we now know as Christianity began with a group. This is in stark contrast to what the Pharisees had been teaching. The whole essence of the way of life of the Pharisee was separation from others, and the very name Pharisee means the separated one. Jesus stands this on its head and showed that the very essence of Christianity was that it brought people together and bound us to one another.
So what was the attraction? Why did these men follow Jesus?
They felt a sort of magnetic energy and attraction from Jesus. There was something about this itinerant preacher that made them want to take him as their master. We read in other parts of Scripture where he just said to them, “follow me” and they did. Andrew, the first to hear the message of Jesus, calls his brother Simon, later Peter to “come and see.”
They also had courage, and make no mistake about it their mission would require an immense amount of courage. Here was Jesus flipping over tables in the Temple and calling out the religious leaders calling them a “brood of vipers.” He was on a collision course with the orthodox leaders, he was branded as a sinner and labeled as a heretic, and despite all of that, they followed and continued to support him. Did they have their misgivings, sure, did they have their doubts, yes and we see it time and time again. But they were willing to risk it all for the sake of the mission. They all had their faults, as we do, but one thing was for sure, they loved Jesus, and they were not afraid to tell the world that they loved him, and that is the very essence of being a Christian.
Jesus called them for two reasons. He called them to be with him. They were to be his steady rock and his companions. We read that the multitude would follow him, but these twelve were his inner circle, his closest friends they were to identify their lives with him. Jesus called them to send them out. Jesus knew that for his message to “go into the whole world,” he would need ambassadors to bring that message.
He taught them in word, but more importantly, he taught them by example. He did not just gather them all together and teach them; he showed them how to love others, he showed them how to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and welcome the stranger. He gave them a message of love, and he taught them how to share that message with others, in other words, he made disciples of them. But he also gave them power, a power to do amazing things. But power is not the right word here what he gave them was a boldness, a boldness that they would need to stand the world on its head and transform it.
So where does that leave us? Jesus has called each of us. He has called each of us here today into a community of love and support. Jesus has called us to show us a way, a new way, a way of love and service to others. Jesus has invited us, as he invited Judas, to sit and break bread with him and others of different backgrounds, races, creeds and gender identities. Jesus calls us to love all and to be taught to love all. But he has also called us to send us out. For a message to be useful it needs a sender, it also requires a receiver, but it first needs a sender. We are called to be senders of that message every day. We send that message by the way we act towards others, how we speak about them and to them. And we send the message by how we put his example into action.
Jesus called the twelve to be people of action and to change the world. He is now calling on us to do the same.