Matthew’s version of the mission of “his twelve disciples” repeats what Luke [6:13-16] had told us about the mission of the seventy-two disciples: Jesus gives them authority and sends them on a mission of proclamation. Yet there is something special about these twelve “disciples” that does not extend to the other sixty and that sets them apart as “apostles”.
I would like to recognize such something special in the way Mark [3:14] narrates the election of the twelve. There the twelve are called “apostles” (etymologically, “sent”). But Mark names two purposes of this election: “to be with Him” and “to be sent” — in that order. The call to be sent to proclaim the Lord’s teaching is shared by all seventy-two disciples and, I submit, also by all the baptized. For those among the baptized, who are further called to (and accepted into) the ordained ministry, this proclamation will often include speaking out the Lord’s teaching. For all the baptized —ordained or not— proclamation involves at least living out the Lord’s teaching, living in such a way that our lives lend credibility to the Lord’s message. In my experience a great many of the people who decline to adhere to the Lord’s teachings do not do so on theological grounds, but rather because the way many of us believers live does not convince them that believing makes a difference in life.
And that is where the other purpose of the calling, “to be with Him”, plays a fundamental role. It is the flip side of the promise we read so often in the Old Testament when individuals are called by God for a mission: “I will be with you”. This being with cannot be unilateral and it implies on the side of the person called to a being with God. Mission and being with belong together. When at the end of John’s gospel [Jn. 21:15-17] Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?”, the positive response is followed by “Feed my lambs/sheep”. It suggests a circular demand: (a) if you love me, you must feed my sheep — mission; (b) if you are going to feed my sheep, then you must first love me — being with. Being with is a precondition to being sent and being sent is a corollary of being with. On a personal note, that is why I get up every day earlier than I would like to, so I can spend time being with before being sent to the hospital.
For those of us who are familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of
Ignatius of Loyola, this cannot come as a surprise. When we ponder
the call of the Eternal King, it is presented to us as an invitation
to be “with Him”:
Is it then a mere coincidence that Mark presents the election of the twelve as “to be with Him and to be sent” — in that order?
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