HomeCommentaryThe Original Twelve

The Original Twelve

The Gospel [on Wednesday, July 8] is about the mission sending of the original 12 apostles, and Jesus’ instructions to them. In the Markan version of this mission sending, we are told that Jesus sent the apostles two by two. (If they had motorbikes already back then, they would have given “riding in tandem” a more noble meaning.) Who were paired together?

Matthew is suggesting in today’s Gospel that the original tandems were: the two pairs of brothers —Simon and Andrew, the sons of Jonah, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Then he pairs Philip with Bartholomew, otherwise called Nathaniel, perhaps because, as told by the fourth Gospel, it was Philip who introduced Nathaniel to Jesus. Then we have Thomas and Matthew, the other James, son of Alpheus and Judas Thaddeus, the other Simon and Judas Iscariot (who is immediately identified as “the one who would betray him”).

I am inclined to think that Andrew would have been more comfortable being paired with Philip because they were both former disciples of John the Baptist, and both also from Bethsaida. By then, Simon, the one whom Jesus would call Peter or Rocky, had already left his parents in Bethsaida and settled in Capernaum, which became the second home of Jesus.

Could Jesus have paired some of them with their “tocayos” or namesakes? There were two Simons (the brother of Andrew and the activist), two Jameses (the Son of Zebedee and the Son of Alpheus), and two Judases (Thaddeus and Iscariot). One of them was already a tandem by himself — Thomas the Twin. (I am joking, of course.) By the way, the one who would later replace Judas Iscariot through a drawing of lots was Matthias, a name that closely resembles Matthaios (Greek for Matthew).

I am just a bit puzzled why Jesus appointed Judas Iscariot as the treasurer when they had an accountant with them — Matthew the tax collector. Later of course we would be told by John that Judas was stealing from their common funds. Wrong choice?

I also wonder if the traditional pairing of apostles during their feast days is a remnant of the original pairing that Jesus did. Philip is actually paired with the other James, the son of Alpheus, and Simon is paired with the other Judas, the one we call Thaddeus.

By instinct, I am inclined to think that the original tandem was not Simon and Judas Thaddeus but Simon and the other Judas, the one called Iscariot. Why? They were supposedly the revolutionaries among the twelve. Simon is called the “Zealot” (the anti-Roman insurgency movement). And Judas’ Iscariot is associated with the same movement’s radical group called the “Sicarii,” who were specialized in ambuscades and assassinations — a bit like the partisan brigades like the former “Sparrow Units” of the CPP-NPA.

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That Jesus dared to include two former revolutionaries in his core group of twelve speaks a lot about him. Do not be surprised therefore that we still have so-called “militant progressives” in the Church until today. We belong to the same Church that Jesus had intended to be truly “Catholic” (inclusive) from the onset. He himself had brought together an interesting combination of personalities in his core group. Luke assures us in his own version of the mission sending that Jesus’ choice of the 12 was a product of a whole night of serious prayer and discernment.

We wouldn’t be a “Catholic Church” if we couldn’t bring them all together in our communities: the progressives and conservatives, the liberals and traditionalists, the “renewalists” and “doctrinalists” Iiving together in mutual respect and harmony (but often also in mutual tension and distrust). This is part of the mystery of the interesting dynamics of the Church, as guided by the same Holy Spirit.

People ask me sometimes why St. Jude has become known as the patron of “desperate cases.” My guess is that it was probably because of his name. After what happened to Judas Iscariot, the name Judas became associated with notoriety. And so, for a while, it was said that you’ve got to be so desperate as to pray for the intercession of an apostle named St. JUDAS. Not even in a parish named after this apostle would parishioners call their sons Judas. Good thing, they invented the shorter English nickname Jude, to distinguish him from Iscariot. Now indeed, we have baptized Christians named Jude, but they often pair the name with a second name, like “Jude Anthony” or “Jude Edward”. It would sound more unthinkable in Tagalog to have parents calling their son “Hudas.” You know of course that the name has been associated with treachery, as in “Hinudas tayo.”

A scene of the ‘Last Supper’ is featured in the life-size Stations of the Cross on Pilgrimage Island in the Hundred Islands National Park in the province of Pangasinan. (Photo by Jojo Rinoza)

I have a confession to make. Because I feel sorry that Judas Iscariot has been dropped from the list of apostles, I make it a point to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday as my way of celebrating the feast of the original team of twelve apostles, with Judas Iscariot included. There is no doubt that the Gospel writers were generally very negative towards Judas Iscariot for very obvious reasons. But thank God we have St. Matthew who seems a bit less judgmental about the man who has been permanently labeled as the “traitor” or the “one who betrayed Jesus.”

Only Matthew narrates to us the story about Judas repenting of what he had done and making an effort to to return the 30 pieces of silver to the Chief Priest in order to save Jesus from execution. Unfortunately, he was simply ignored, and, as the song goes, “when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night” he took his life, perhaps thinking that what he had done was unforgivable. (See Matthew 27:3-10). Luke tells the story differently; instead of hanging himself, Judas throws himself down into a ravine.

I know that the Lukan tradition, which really hated Judas, has already replaced him with Matthias in the Acts of Apostles. See Acts 1:23-26. I have nothing against Matthias. But in honor of the fact that Judas too was chosen personally by Jesus after a whole night of prayer and discernment, I refuse to condemn Judas into ignominy. I often remind myself that the Eucharist was actually for him. This has been immortalized by that part in the Eucharistic prayer that says, “On the night he was betrayed, he took bread….”

The Eucharist was an infamous night of betrayal which Jesus had turned into a meal of forgiveness. So why should I exclude Judas? I think it was this move to delist Judas Iscariot from the twelve that has made us develop the tendency to treat the Eucharist as an exclusive meal for the righteous.

The Johannine Bible scholar, Father Frank Moloney, feels very strongly about this. He says he does not doubt the Eucharistic character of Jesus’ act of breaking bread with Judas. Judas was the very “first communicant” at the first Eucharist. With that gesture, Moloney says, Jesus has made it clear what the Eucharist is for. It is not an exclusive meal for righteous people. It is a “body broken for broken people.” The more broken we are, the more in need we are of the Eucharist.

I think Judas Thaddeus was called “Patron of the Hopeless” precisely because he dared to retain his name even after it had gained the ultimate notoriety of his namesake — who was the real hopeless case.

The traditional images of Judas Thaddeus portray him pointing at an icon of Jesus hung around his neck. If icons are theological statements, what statement is an image of Judas Thaddeus pointing at the face of Jesus trying to tell us? From my Kalookan pastoral experience, the statement is, “With Jesus, no one, as in NOBODY, is ever to be regarded as a hopeless case. Nobody is beyond the reach of Jesus’ redeeming passion and death.” In the words of St. Paul another later additional apostle, “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”

“The Original Twelve” is a homily delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Diocese of Kalookan on Wednesday, July 8, 14th Week in Ordinary Time.

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