Have you noticed that half of the Twelve Apostles share their name with someone else in the group? There are two Simons, two Jameses, and two Judahs. The Gospel writers—and the English language translators-- provide some clues to keep the members of the pairs distinct. Simon called Peter (or Rock), always first in the lists, stands apart as the chosen leader of the Twelve. The other Simon, the one celebrated today, also has a nickname, the Zealot. (When Matthew calls him “the Cananean,” he is simply giving us the Aramaic word for “zealot”--not a reference to the town of Cana or the people of Canaan.) We don’t know whether the moniker “zealot” a reference to his personality—i.e. “really enthusiastic”—or that he was an early member of the Zealot movement that eventually attempted to overthrow the Roman occupation through guerrilla warfare in AD 68-70. If the latter, he was originally of a disposition exactly the opposite of Matthew, who as tax collector had been a “collaborator” with the Romans.
What I meant by “the two Judahs” is (1) Judas Iscariot and (2) the Jude we celebrate today. Both had the same Hebrew name, Judah, which becomes Ioudas in Greek. Since Judah called Iscariot has been rendered Judas, translators have traditionally had a scruple about translating the “Judah of James” with that evil name Judas; so they typically call him “Jude.” This second Judas, by the way, is mentioned only in Luke’s lists (Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13), where it replaces the name Thaddeus, which is usually taken to refer to the same person. Although this Jude is sometimes identified with the Jude who is the author of the first of the seven Catholic Epistles ascribed to that name, this seems unlikely. That Jude is not called an Apostle but rather “the brother of James”—i.e. one of the “brothers” listed in the family of Jesus at Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55.
The fact that we know so little about this pair of Apostles gives us reason to simply reflect on who the Twelve were collectively. Why exactly did Jesus choose an inner core of twelve? And in this age of heightened gender sensitivity, many ask, “Why twelve males when we know that several Galilean women were also key members of the earliest disciples” (see Luke 8:1-3; 24:10)? The reasonable answer to both of those questions is that Jesus’ choice of the number twelve, and specifically twelve men, was a prophetic symbolic act indicating that he was bringing about the expected messianic restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Part of the background here is Isaiah’s prophecy describing the mission of the Servant of the Lord as “raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the survivors of Israel” (Isa 49:6). The mission of Twelve Apostles was the fulfillment of this prophecy; moreover, their further outreach to the Gentiles as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles represented the fulfillment of the second part of that verse from Isaiah: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This Jewish expectation regarding the Messianic times, the restoration of Israel and then becoming a light to the nations, is the very thing that Luke saw fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. That is why he made so much of the diverse geographical origins of the Jewish pilgrims gathered on that occasion. The Jerusalem Christian community was drawn from those Jews gathered from that wide scattering of the tribes that made up the Diaspora throughout the Mediterranean.
We Gentiles who claim to be followers of Jesus are extensions of that end-time gathering at Pentecost. The chosen Twelve, Simon and Jude among them, were instruments of this work of God by simply cooperating with God’s initiative. Even relatively unknown apostles like Simon and Jude remind us that we are called to do the same, even anonymously.
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