Gospel reflection for June 18, Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Koch: In naming the Apostles Jesus intends the Church
Jesus attracted a large number of followers -- the 72, -- of both men and women. Yet, in the midst of this collection of Jewish, largely Galilean persons, he chose 12 specifically to be his principal disciples. Even among the 12 he chose three: Peter, James and John as his inner circle. In a sense this indicated more than anything else his intention that the movement within Judaism that he was inaugurating in his preaching, would endure as a formal movement after his Death.
The Church, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, continues this mission in the world, choosing its ministers and proclaiming the Gospel.
The group that Jesus chooses -- often called “The Twelve” -- accompanies him throughout his public ministry. While others follow along, it is principally these 12 who he is preparing to proclaim the Gospel message after he has ascended to the Father.
These men were called, not because they had any particular learning or status in life -- indeed they were ordinary fishermen, tradesmen or minor civil servants. None of them appear to have any specific rabbinic training or expertise in the Law above that of an ordinary observant Jew of their period.
So, then, why these 12? We know that Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first that Jesus invited to walk with him as he called them from their fishing boats to become “fishers of men.” Now he includes these four among his select group.
For an extended period of time -- by tradition three years though many scholars hold to a much shorter ministry -- these men live together, travel together, and most importantly, learn from the one they call “Master” or “Rabbi.”
They formed among themselves a community living what was, even then, a unique lifestyle. Most rabbis were stationary, Jesus was itinerant. They moved from village to village, relying on others for support, and likely spending much time sleeping outside. Jesus gradually empowered this group to preach, to expel demons, and to heal the sick. We see in the Gospels this growth in the twelve as they become more and more confident.
The first task of the 12 -- then called apostles -- after Pentecost was to “go and make disciples.”
Once the disciples understood that the work that Jesus had given them was transformative and becoming a new movement on its own, it became necessary to not only make disciples, but to form others to make disciples. In that the ministries of the Church were born: first the deacons, then the bishops, and finally the priests.
While we often reflect on the call to diaconate and the call to the priesthood, we seldom think about those called to be bishops. Although some priests might desire to become bishops, one does not volunteer for the role, apply for the role, or campaign for the role. It is a gift bestowed upon an individual priest for greater service to the church. As Jesus chose 12 from among the 72, so the Holy Father chooses from among the priests those whom the church discerns a call to greater service.
The bishops are the successors to the apostles.
This is understood in two distinct ways. The apostles chose bishops who in turn chose bishops, carrying on a line of bishops going back to the beginning. At the same time the bishops are tasked with the responsibility of handing-on the faith and teaching of the apostles. Each bishop in his own jurisdiction or diocese holds the cathedra (chair) of the bishop (hence the cathedral) from whence he teaches with the authority of the apostles.
To all of the faith of his diocese -- laity, priests, deacons and religious -- the Bishop is a father. Pope St. Paul VI wrote Christus Dominus (16): “In exercising their office of father and pastor, bishops should stand in the midst of their people as those who serve. Let them be good shepherds who know their sheep and whose sheep know them. Let them be true fathers who excel in the spirit of love and solicitude for all and to whose divinely conferred authority all gratefully submit themselves. Let them so gather and mold the whole family of their flock that everyone, conscious of his own duties, may live and work in the communion of love.”
We pray for our Bishop, David M. O’Connell, C.M., and for all bishops that they will continue to be enlivened and enlightened by the Lord who called them to this awesome service to the people of God.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.