At various points in my life, my brothers have helped me to find that narrow path of truth.
My brothers probably don’t know that this is true. I speak to them not enough, so the rare moments of our conversations make for intense review on my part. I do a lot of the talking during our times together, so their comments have to be carefully worded and divinely inspired in order to get in a word, and to drive home a point. That works out quite well for the both of us. I can’t remember a word of what I have said to them, and neither do they. Their inspired words, however, etch like revelatory words on stone, audible and memorially visible for a lifetime.
Just underneath the general statement of Jesus’ pick of 12 apostles sits a fascinating selection of several siblings among the dozen leaders included in the birth of Christianity. Peter and Andrew were brothers. James, the Elder, and John were also brothers. And, James, the Younger, was the brother of the apostle called Jude. The curious coincidence of so many brother pairs automatically becomes spectacular when you add, according to some commentators on the scripture, that Matthew might also be a brother of James and Jude.
Of the 12 apostles, then, at least six of them, and maybe seven, were biological brothers. You could say that Jesus had a thing for brothers. He could have picked anyone he wanted. He obviously considered that more than half of Christian leadership relied upon siblings to establish the most important development of human relationships in the conciliar body of beginning the stewardship of the Body of Christ.
With a tip of my hat to some potentially angry students of scripture, if only four of them are brothers and the other sibling fits fall apart, that’s still a statistical fascination.
A number of issues arise from God’s plan to begin the Kingdom presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s foundation for gathering us all together upon the framework of 12 men. I’ll bring up a short list of three here, but will actually only adequately address one of them. First, the importance of Jesus using so many blood relatives as apostles. Second, based upon the importance of relatives, his exclusion of all of Jesus’ close relatives as apostles. And third, the utter lack of women among the initial set of apostles.
I’m unable to adequately address the second, and third issues. I only bring them up because they are interesting and explosively problematic, and therefore necessary to note. I can’t ignore them. So, after some seemingly unfair assumptions, I am going to cheat and use hyperlinks to send you off to look at those issues separately. That way I’ll appear to address them, when I’m purposely avoiding the controversy of them altogether.
In truth, though, it’s important to me that you grasp my understanding of two and three in order for me to talk about one — Jesus’ intentional use of so many siblings among the apostles. I could be full of bananas, but at least I’m showing you the trees where my bananas are coming from, if you care to check.
Out of order, let’s begin with Jesus’ exclusion of his own personal extended family of brothers and sisters, which included a potential list of seven siblings (four half-brothers and three half-sisters — “half” in the sense that Jesus’ seed came from the Holy Spirit, not from Joseph).
For your own edification, and to side-step the arguments and conflicts around Jesus’ own “brothers and sisters” in this short essay, please read two brief news articles which I believe properly, though simplistically, sum up the length and depth of the debate — one in US Catholic which carefully describes the Orthodox view of the Church’s insistence upon Mary’s virginal life, and the other at BibleInfo.com, which offers a fair overview of Evangelical and mainline Protestant views regarding the issue. I personally hold the Orthodox view.
As an aside, I have a “Saints” explanation for my virginal life view of Mary, which has slowly come into line with Church teaching over the years. Mary, a living Saint, lived the life of a fully embodied holy one. A sexual union in her marriage was not just replaced by her motherhood of Jesus, but had wholly attached her to God in a way that purposely surpassed our post-Eden human confines and represents the primary example of our coming life with God; and, in her Assumption, represents what being joined to the Divine means. You could say that my Orthodox alignments are based upon a long and embarrassing delay in grasping spiritual realities, or as some may think, a declining (therefore, unbeknownst to me) inability to think things through on my own.
The thing about Jesus' siblings and Mary to understand regarding Jesus' choice to pick so many siblings as Apostles is that God's plans are his own, not ours. But, each recording of God's plans are important for us. Mary's sainthood was not her plan, nor was it her intention to carry the Messiah child, nor to watch him die, nor to be assumed into heaven like Elijah. They are all, however, important scriptural items for us to absorb. Mary's lifelong virginity clearly sends a message of how holiness and a saintly response to life's challenges works for God purpose. Mary's compliance to God's every move is how we are urged to pattern our lives. Pray, question, submit, and wonder in awe. She didn't plan any of what happened to her, but she was prepared.
The way I look at is, I’ve always been so certain that I am right, that I never really know how incredibly wrong I have been or will be. Consequently, I rely entirely upon God through folks for the truth. These saints and holy people, by the way, during their lifetimes were considered to be fools. I have to thank my brothers and sisters for this insight. Not that they are fools, but I am. At various points in my life, my brothers have helped me to find that narrow path of truth by seeing the honesty in looking the fool rather than seeking approval.
My brothers probably don’t know that this is true. I speak to them not enough, so the rare moments of our conversations make for intense review on my part. I do a lot of the talking during our times together, so their comments have to be carefully worded and divinely inspired in order to get in a word, and to drive home a point. That works out quite well for the both of us. I can’t remember a word of what I have said to them, and neither do they. Their inspired words, however, etch like revelatory gems on stone, audible and memorially visible for a lifetime.
I have two brothers, Michael and James. According to uncertified scriptural genealogical fantasy, my brother James (now called J.D., because James the Elder was a nickname that no one could consider, until now as he ages and catches up to us) and I were un-purposely named after the Sons of Thunder, as the Apostles John and James the Elder were called. We are indeed a thunderous pair, both opinionated and overpowering, though I carry the added features of being annoying and intimidating.
My brother Michael was named after the archangel Michael. He is a large winged creature, which is important because Michael lives in Hawaii and has to fly to go anywhere. Michael has been charged with the task of protector and warrior of his domain. JD and I have always expected great things from Michael. We’re a bit surprised that he hasn’t fully dedicated his life to our needs, but he tells us all the time that he loves us while busily keeping the lovely Pacific Islands at a constant state of 72 degrees. He has personally averted two lava flows, and stayed the evil of several tsunamis. Though his wife rolls her eyes at these incredible accomplishments, both JD and I have considered the same eye-rolling expressions from our wives as high praise. Michael is awesome.
Problematic to my other four siblings — Laurie, Lindy, Lisa and Molly — is their gender. Not that they are problematic in their femininity, but that they are women altogether. Jesus, apparently, either thought little enough of women, or so highly of them, as not to include them as apostles. That insensitive description and follow up degenerative conclusion helps to make my point regarding the difficulty of this issue. My sisters communicate among themselves in a mystical fashion that miraculously prepared Mike, J.D. and I for marriage. We didn't know then what we don't know now, but we recognize the unexplainable awesomeness of women because of our siblings.
So, rather than deal with this male apostolic thing that God did, I’m deflecting the problem. I believe the male-centered decision by Jesus in his hand-picked brotherhood of apostles had to do with gender in the very same way that his particular incarnation had to do with the choice of a male gender for the Christ.
I could argue that Martha and Mary, two sisters who show up at divinely opportune moments in scripture, balance the problem of gender preference in Jesus' purview, but that would reveal a weakness in analysis and laziness in research. Two other inane arguments should also be thrown out. One, that man being created first in Genesis meant that they are the superior being. See the argument about the chicken or the egg -- which came first. Second, as Pope Francis has opined, women were created last, so they are the epitome of creation. That means to ritualize the servant roles of priesthood, and therefore apostolic appointment, trivializes the special nature of women. None of these addresses the particularities of the gender issues. Not really. So, here’s where I punt.
See a rather basic, bordering on offensive, discussion regarding Jewish/Gentile, female priesthood, and apostolic discussions on the male gender in a Grace Communion study. You can find a familiar, though too short, start that references males as apostles and popes in Live Science. The Junia Project provides some eyebrow-raising material on the pro-women subject, though it’s very name is a controversy in that few major theologians believe Junia is a women’s name. A rather oddly veiled reformed Catholic site, which means cafeteria anti-Catholic, with further progressive detail on the issue of women is Winjnaard’s Institute of Catholic Research. Finally, my favorite handling of the subject is by Jason Evert, reprinted on a terrific site of what I regard as healthy mind of the Church offerings at CERC, the Catholic Education Resource Center.
At issue here is that I trust God and know that God does what God wants to do. No matter how much we question what he does, or delve into agenda-based analysis, God is still God. It helps me to explain my dead pancreas, my upcoming death, his unlimited grace, my fortune in children and grandchildren, and most amazingly, his choice in convincing Joanne that I was meant for her — not to be fixed, but to be loved. Of all these things, anyone who knows Joanne can understand my wonderment and delight at her agreeing to belong to such as me, and allowing me to belong to her. None of these things — my health, eventual mortality, progeny, and spouse — are under my control or in my imagination when they took or will take place.
Yes, I admit, I thought I was going to live forever. Which, actually is true, but again, not in the way that I imagined.
That’s the stuff of Matthew 16:1-4:
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.
None of these men summoned themselves or renamed themselves, nor did they have the authority to do any of these things until this time. They also could not have imagined any of these things would happen to them. Some of us wonder what a few folks left out of the divinely chosen dozen thought about being overlooked. Then, we read about 72 of them being missioned. That's an important bit right there. Just wait for your time and then, "Go."
My brothers and sisters, like the many brothers within the initial Apostolic group, are requirements for a soul like me. Not everyone needs a prodding spiritually and genetically bound Christ-following sibling. God knows, however, that at least half of us do, ergo his pick of six or seven biological brothers our of twelve.
My siblings are a constant recognition of the need for faith partnerships. They help me to recognize the faith-filled brother and sister relationships that God provides. Among the apostles, before the Holy Spirit had come upon them, the alignments of these men had previously been cemented by the many sibling stones that already fit together. Their penchants for argument, competition, stubbornness, anger, and fear could not remain hidden. The sensitivity of brothers insists upon addressing conflict, no matter the pain and angst and potential dissolution. The Body of Christ could begin no differently, and it's in-fighting and ultimate need for forgiveness and unconditional love were crucial.
Though much can be confusing and controversial about Jesus’ concentration on men in the initial apostolic circle, there is no confusion regarding his overwhelming number of relationships with both men and women at every level. His constant inclusion eliminated every difference in population regarding God's love and grace. That reflects the stuff of sibling rivalries gone bad and God healing them. Jesus recognized differences in gender, nationality, religion, marital status, social status, title, and economic success. He spoke about those differences as paths where God walks with us and how we must be careful. Jesus, however, saw none as advantages for being offered the gift of eternal life. His concentration returned constantly to regard our individual and communal relationship to God, our personal and gathered mission to serve each other, and for all of us to live out our lives for the glory of God. We are each important, but there had to be twelve, then 72, then 500 baptized in one day, and then martyrs beyond counting, and 2000 years of Christian fellowship that follows a God-involved pattern.
I must live with my pancreas, my relatives, my friends, and my gender, and allow God his freedom to do as he will, especially his mix of generosity and danger regarding authority over my life. I should not argue this, but submit to his answer; nor should I worry over his fairness, practicality, or effectiveness. We must live as we will be led. In fact, I must await his next move with both delicious anticipation, and, though loathsome and frightful, mortal preparation.
Why so giddy while girding for calamity? Why go forward with such intensity? Because the path forward marks Jesus’ example and the promise of a ready prize.
“As you go, make this proclamation: 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"