By Noralyn Dudt
A story full of oddities it certainly is. From the world's point of view, twelve men from an odd place with odd personalities could not have been the main actors over 2,000 years ago when another odd man discipled them and sent them around the Roman world to preach and proclaim the Good News. They were revolutionary ideas about loving your enemies, ideas that were at odds with what are sensible to the human mind. What was so blessed about being "poor in spirit" anyway? And what was so blessed about being meek ? And "turning the other cheek?" Truly revolutionary. But eleven of the original Twelve plus one other later, whose name was Paul went around preaching those odd ideas, and the world was being turned upside down.
How each one of these Twelve and another one named Paul were called to follow this man who grew up in a carpenter's home was another odd thing. This man who then was called "Rabii" or Teacher was walking "beside the Sea of Galilee" when he came upon two fisherman casting a net into the lake and he said "Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Oddly, the two men "at once" left their nets and followed him. Going further, he saw two other brothers who were with their father on a boat. This man whose name was Yeshua (Jesus) called them and they "immediately left the boat and followed him". Sometime earlier, he was passing by a tax collector's booth and told the tax collector to follow him. The tax collector whose name was Matthew left his post... at once.... and followed him. At once... immediately... right away. From the world's perspective, that's really, really odd.
They were an odd mix—two sets of brothers who were fishermen, a tax collector, a rebel and the others whose personalities didn't stand out, perhaps because they were the quiet type, but were just as effective. Indeed, a very interesting mix. Several were assertive and quite vocal who actually argued about who should be by this Teacher's side when he will be in his heavenly kingdom. One of them was not amenable to the "wasteful" pouring of perfume by a penitent woman on the Teacher's feet, and he dared to tell the Teacher so.
They were indeed very human—imperfect beings—but whose capabilities and potential their Creator knew, and what they could eventually become. Although the Teacher could have waved a magic wand to transform their flawed personalities all at once, He did not. He wanted them to learn, by His side for three years, and they were willing.
One of them Simon, known also as Peter, was strong-willed and courageous. Looking at his personality, Peter seemed to have embodied every man in his strength and weakness. He denied the Teacher three times when he was scared. But the impulsive Peter held a firm belief in the teachings of his Teacher, the Christ and he became one of the three closest disciples. Historical evidence points to the fact that during the time of the Roman emperor Nero, Peter was crucified upside down. When he was condemned to death Peter requested that he be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to perish in the same way as did his Lord. And there was Thomas who is now known as "Doubting Thomas" because he would not believe that the Teacher had really risen from the dead unless "I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." ( John 20:24-25). He wanted to see evidence and he got it.
And there was the tax collector for the Romans, named Matthew. A tax collector was one of the most reviled professions in ancient Judea. That the Teacher actually wanted to be associated with such a person was also something very odd. But Matthew would become one of the authors of the Four Gospels, the Book of Matthew in the New Testament.
They were just ordinary men whom God used in extraordinary ways. Their loyalty and commitment took them to far-flung places, enabled them to endure persecution and gave them the courage to face death, even death on the cross.
So what made them so bold and courageous? Why would they risk their lives and those of their families? What did they see to make them willing to give everything up, even their lives? Were they convinced that the Teacher was really God in human form—the Christ? Were they convinced of the evidence they saw that "truly this is the Christ?"
Water in jars that He turned to wine, the sick that He healed, the blind folks whose eyes He touched so they could see again, a girl He raised from the dead as He would do later to Lazarus ? What did the Twelve think when 5,000 folks were fed with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and still they went away with full stomachs? What did they think when they saw their Teacher walking on the water on the Sea of Galilee? And what did they think when they went to the tomb where His dead body was laid, and found it empty? What did they think when suddenly the Teacher whom they thought was dead, appeared in the midst of them? And how did they feel watching Him go back to Heaven? How did they feel when later on, the Holy Spirit rested on them and they could speak languages that they had never learned before?
It certainly is a narrative that would never fit our idea of the pathway to success. These men held no advanced degrees, had no special schooling, did not attend special seminars and workshops. But they turned the world upside down. They were very attentive to The Teacher who was always at their side for three years—the One who embodied what God was like, the One who was full of mercy, the One who exemplified humility and meekness but Someone who could be weak and strong at the same time. Someone who could truly love his neighbor as himself.
Acts 2:43-47: "Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
It has been over 2,000 years and the Good News they went around spreading had transformed so many lives... lives that transformed the world. We are living in that world today because of what they did. Simple folks they were, but they were turning the world upside down.
Next narrative will be on Paul, the apostle.
Noralyn Onto Dudt cannot cease to be amazed by what ordinary people can do when they allow God to do His work through them.