Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
Matthew did not disclose much personal information for the men he subsequently listed, focusing instead on their future, if not terrifying mission, more so than on their past identities. Jesus sanctioned these men with supernatural abilities to heal and resurrect, but those abilities would not come with fanfare. Instead, these men would be tried, convicted, arrested, beaten, and hated. Families would divide because of them. Haters would label them as disciples of the prince of demons.
Such a sanction causes us to wonder who would willingly agree to this.
A few of the men who did agree to this sanctioning were fishermen, an occupation in a state-controlled, revenue-generating enterprise, protected only by the razor-thin hedge of guilds. Fishermen paid large amounts of revenue to their provinces, and provincial leaders would then pay revenue to the Roman Empire. Every government official in the chain of taxation received their due share. From the Herods to the Caesars, rulers received vast amounts of wealth from this system.
It wasn’t necessarily a fair life. But it was predictable.
Until Jesus offered them another option, one more adventurous, more terrifying, and one that would not depend on their entrepreneurial skills – an option that exchanged lives of comfort for lives on the edge.
He chose, instead, to leave Jesus’ calling for them open-ended, using this literary flourish to tell his readers that Jesus’ calling had a much larger reach than twelve men.
Consider these words from scholar Anna Case-Winters.
I wonder whether we … have a form of “culture Christianity,” an ecclesial existence that has become so “well-adapted” to our culture that it is indistinguishable from it? In our situation of ease, have we lost our prophetic edge and, with it, a sense of the distance between the reign of God and the status quo? Is it possible that the very things that, in our context, have made it easy to be a Christian have made it harder to follow Jesus?
If we take a wider global view, we see some churches in other contexts that live very much on the edge. They know the meaning of giving courageous and faithful witness in the face of opposition. They do not have the luxury of a peaceful and prosperous existence. It may be that secularization occurring in Europe and North America may disestablish the church from its place of easy acceptance and privilege. We may come to know the harder realities that are the experience of Churches in some parts of Asia and Africa. The coming changes may lend a new relevance to this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel which reacquaints its readers with the “cost of discipleship.”