"On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping..."
Here is a multiple-choice quiz question regarding today's gifts:
"The Apostles were:
- not highly gifted supermen
- rather ordinary people from a variety of walks of life
- early responders to Jesus' invitation to follow him and who were subsequently designated and equipped witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
- all of the above.
ORDINARY PEOPLE. Those of us who have put the Apostles on a stained glass pedestal would benefit from participating in a "Living Last Supper." This Easter-time drama brings the Last Supper to life with Jesus and the twelve Apostles gathered around the table. Frozen in a pose, each actor ponders Jesus' statement that one of them would betray him. Each disciple, in turn, steps into the spotlight to tell his story and reflect on the betrayal question: "Is it I?" Painstakingly researched for biblical and historical integrity, the soliloquies reveal the earthiness, unique character, selfish desires, questionable motives, noble aspirations, and trusting hope of each Apostle. One comes away with a sense that the Apostles are ordinary people; they could be you and me.
THE POWER OF JESUS' INFLUENCE. On the other hand, these ordinary people had an extraordinary encounter with Jesus. They received an education that stood everything they believed upside down. They witnessed incredible value placed repeatedly on those whom society and religion discarded as refuse. The observed the miraculous on a routine basis. They grappled with the mind-boggling prospect that their journey to Jerusalem would not result in Jesus being crowned king but in Jesus being crowned with thorns and crucified on a cross. They witnessed the surprise of the empty tomb, welcomed the presence of the risen Christ, watched him ascend, and received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Whatever had been ordinary about them became extraordinary.
WITNESSES TO A LIFE. The New Testament uses two terms to identify the Apostles. First, they are considered "witnesses" to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Second, they are "sent ones," sent forth to tell their unique story and teach the way of Jesus. They who joined many others as followers and trainees, or "disciples," became a designated core to become special witnesses of the heart of the Good News. Their companionship with Jesus and their faithfulness to His calling set them apart. In the light of Resurrection and Pentecost, every small detail in their years with him became magnified. It is clear that the early church revered their unique role in terms of witness and leadership.
BUT JUDAS. Eleven remained faithful. It is to this day one of the most tragic and haunting elements of the gospel story that one of the Twelve would ultimately decide to betray Jesus. Judas Iscariot's story should be witnessed and weighed as carefully as the other Eleven. After betraying Jesus, Judas hanged himself. What we might understand of his turbulent heart could steer us clear of his choices and outcome.
THEIR END, OUR BEGINNING. History records that all but one of the Apostles died horrific deaths at the hands of those who also conspired to crucify Jesus. The most notable is the death of Peter, who asked to be crucified upside down, for he did not consider himself worthy of being crucified in the manner of his Lord. Only John, it seems, escaped a gruesome death; it is believed he died of old age while exiled on Patmos Island. The Apostles are appreciated not only for their witness to the Good News, but for their faithful witness to the Good News to the very end of their lives.