Jesus chose twelve people to be his closest disciples. There were many other followers, disciples and apostles, but it seems there were twelve that were the “inner circle.” Twelve, just like the number of tribes in Israel. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke list the their names, as does the Book of Acts. The gospel of John doesn’t, though it mentions most of them individually at some point.
We know some better than others. We might know their story of being invited to join the band, we might learn about their character as they journey with Jesus or in the days after his departure, spreading the word, teaching, preaching and being Jesus in the world.
Why these people, though?
As far as the story goes, there was no job description, no request for applications and resumés were not required. Jesus didn’t seem to have any criteria and he didn’t seem to be looking for specific skills or a particular education. The ones who’s occupations we know were not particularly useful, although the fishermen made for a memorable metaphor. So did he know what he was looking for? Did he randomly pick just anyone?
It’s pretty easy to say well, it’s Jesus. The Son of God “knows.” Attributing it to divine knowledge is a traditional response, but it’s also one that doesn’t really help us. And I think Jesus is all about helping us.
I think Jesus did know what he was looking for, I just think it wasn’t divine foreknowledge, it was something very human that he saw in the moment.
We might tend to focus on how Jesus constantly demonstrates empathy for the marginalized, the broken, the hurting and the grieving. The fact is, Jesus has empathy for everyone. I think Jesus saw honest, authentic people and saw the potential in them, especially the potential for an open heart and an inclination to connecting with that divine spirit that is in all of us. He saw that in the people he chose.
I imagine he saw that in many people, so maybe he was looking for more. Maybe he was also looking for a willingness to let go. Not just that they would drop everything, leave their jobs and their families and follow him - they do that in the story - but that they would let go of the traditions and structures that box us in and be able to imagine and learn something new. Something we once knew and is new again: that God is with us and in us and we are part of the divine spirit that is in all creation, connected by love and capable of living love into the world.
Learn. That’s the key part of that. Jesus wasn’t looking for people who were already there. He was looking for people whose journey would not only inspire them, but others as well. He looked for promise and potential, not certainty and perfection. He chose people he knew would stumble (we all do), but that he knew would get up and step out again.
When we talk about being Jesus, this is part of being Jesus. Not just that we would be true to our authentic selves and be open and loving and offer grace and compassion, but that we would look for it in others and help them find their way to living it.