I have the privilege to be able to go to seminary and study some pretty incredible things. What’s the point of that if I cannot share what I have learned? So, here’s a tidbit I thought others might enjoy.
The set up:
There are so many lists of names in the Bible. When you come across some of the lists of names in the Old Testament devotionally you may cry out “Why oh why is this in here?” More likely you just skip it. Anyway, sometimes there is useful information in those lists; insights just waiting to be set free from the pages. We’re going to look at just such a list today.
Jesus’ disciples. We know them well. The rowdy bunch of fellows who tagged after Jesus. I sort of picture them like the gangs in West Side Story; they claim to be tough, but most of the time they’re just dancing, snapping their fingers, and saying things like “great daddy-O!” So, Jesus’ infamous merry-men. Can you name all twelve? Probably not, but I’ll bet your buttons you can name all the reindeer and the twelve days of Christmas. (Which just goes to show why we need ourselves a lighthearted, catchy disciple song). To help you out, I’ll provide Mark 3:14-19:
“And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”
The cool stuff:
Undoubtedly, the list seems innocuous enough, but there is something interesting I learned at Seminary that sheds a little light on these names. Let’s look closely at two disciples in particular:
1) Simon the Zealot: The term zealot was applied throughout biblical history to various kinds of people. Quite often, however, zealots were people marked of extreme devotion to the covenant with God. In the New Testament period, Zealots were often part of a political anti-Roman movement; sometimes in a hostile and physically violent fashion. Though it is unclear to what extent Simon was involved in his Zealotry, there is no doubt that his opinions would have been similar to the sentiments of this anti-Roman party.
2) Matthew/Levi: Next, we turn back just a bit in Mark to remind ourselves about one other person on the list. Matthew, who is also called Levi, joins Jesus in Mark 2:14 which says, “as [Jesus] passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” Tax collectors, as many of us know, were hated by society for their deceitful, power-abusive tactics. Essentially, Rome would auction off a taxable area. Wealthy people would pay all of the Roman taxes out of their own pocket. Why would they be so generous? Well, they weren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts (though wouldn’t you just love a person who voluntarily paid your taxes?). To reimburse this large sum and compensate for the risk, these wealthy individuals would then go around and collect exorbitant taxes from the citizens in that area—far more than they technically owed. This is likely what Matthew was doing.
What’s the point:
If it is not apparent from their descriptions, there are perhaps very few groups of people who would have hated each other more than Zealots and Roman tax collectors. One stands in the camp of religious extremism with venomous hatred of Rome. The other represents corruption and the epitome of Roman’s evil headship.
For my undergraduate degree, I was a creative writing major. I once heard a professor say that drama was simply this: two people locked in a room together. The point is that any two people in close proximity for any length of time will certainly create drama. So, here are two people following Jesus night and day. As part of a group in constant, close proximity, these two members were likely extreme opposites. A cat and a dog. A Democrat and a Republican. A Buckeye fan and a Michigan fan. A librarian and those guys in Fahrenheit 451.
Why it matters:
Why would Jesus choose two of his closest followers to be people he knew would hate one another? Most likely there were a host of reasons, but I think that it points to Jesus’ ability to be the great equalizer. He did not come to applaud one and condemn the other. He just asked them both to follow him. Both recognized that following Jesus was more important than their individual, personal agendas. Jesus wanted to make the point that he was not concerned with earthly division or human grudges. He came for something that was much more important than any on-going political or personal feud.
What to do with this:
As I always say, this may mean nothing to you. This, however, resonates with me in two ways.
1) It reminds me to set aside quarrels with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church body is full of division and is only fracturing more. We are in desperate need of greater unity. Now, I am not suggesting that we all gather around the fire, ignore different voices, and sing Kumbaya. I doubt that Simon and Matthew ever came to a place of complete agreement. Yet, it is clear that following Jesus was of greater concern than the political, social, or earthly perspectives that divide us from our fellow disciples in Christ. I think that we could all stand to be reminded of that lesson from time-to-time. Who have we hurt—or been hurt by—in the body of Christ that has caused unnecessary division?
2) It reminds me that I am no better or worse than anyone else. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection bridges the gap of sin that divides us from God. It does not matter whether I am a Zealot, a tax collector, or anyone else. I need to follow Jesus. Jesus even said just after Matthew joined his crew “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). It is a great reminder that we’re all in the same proverbial boat and in need of Jesus. We may as well find a way to embrace those around us—even those we do not like—with love; otherwise it’s going to be a much more difficult journey.