Apostles Are Witnesses to Jesus in the World
BY John Lilly
April 2-8, 2006 Issue | Posted 4/3/06 at 11:00 AM
Pope Benedict XVI met with 35,000 people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on March 22. He continued his catechesis dedicated to the relationship between Christ and the Church by elaborating on the call and the mission the Twelve Apostles.
He reiterated that the Church is built “upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.” He then pointed out how each of the Gospels shows that Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, chose the Twelve Apostles to become “fishers of men.”
“An apostle is someone who is
sent, but even before that, he is someone ‘who has experienced’ Jesus,” the
Holy Father pointed out. “It is precisely this aspect that John the Evangelist
emphasizes from Jesus’ very first encounter with his future apostles.”
The Pope explained that the
preaching of the Gospel is more than just the proclamation of a message. It is
seen as a witness to the person of Jesus Christ and an invitation to enter into
communion with him. Jesus sent his apostles first to the “lost sheep of the
After Christ’s passion and resurrection, the universality of the mission entrusted to the apostles was made more explicit. Christ sent forth his apostles to make disciples of every nation. “And this mission continues,” Pope Benedict pointed out. “This is our hope and this is also our mandate: to contribute to this universality, to this true unity in the richness of cultures, in communion with our true Lord Jesus Christ.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Letter to the Ephesians
presents the Church as a structure “built upon the foundation of the apostles
and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Ephesians 2:20). In
the Book of Revelation, the role of the apostles, and more specifically of the
Twelve, is clarified within the eschatological perspective of the heavenly
According to the accounts in Mark
(1:16-20) and Matthew (4:18-22), the setting for the call of the first apostles
Although Luke follows the same tradition, he gives a more elaborate account (see Luke 5:1-11). He shows us the journey of faith of the first disciples, clarifying that the invitation to follow him comes after they heard Jesus’ initial preaching and experienced his first miraculous signs. In particular, the miraculous catch of fish forms the immediate context and provides us the symbol of the mission of fishers of men that is entrusted to them. From that time on, the destiny of these “men who were called” was intimately linked to Jesus’ destiny. An apostle is someone who is sent, but first of all, he is someone “who has experienced” Jesus.
It is precisely this aspect that
John the Evangelist emphasizes from Jesus’ very first encounter with his future
apostles. Here the setting is different. The meeting takes place on the banks
John the Baptist’s identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God (see John 1:36) is sufficient to arouse within them the desire for a personal encounter with the Master. Jesus’ conversation with his two first future apostles is very expressive. In response to his question, “What do you seek?” they respond with another question: “‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher) ‘where are you staying?’” Jesus replies with an invitation: “Come, and you will see” (see John 1:38-39). Come, so that you can see.
Thus, the apostles’ adventure begins as a gathering of persons who open up to one another. For the disciples, it is the beginning of a direct knowledge of the Master. They see where he lives and begin to know him. Indeed, they are not to be heralds of some idea, but witnesses to a person. Before being sent to evangelize, they will have to “be” with Jesus (see Mark 3:14) and form a personal relationship with him. Upon such a foundation, evangelization will be nothing other than a proclamation of what has been experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ (see 1 John 13).
To whom would the apostles be
sent? In the Gospel, Jesus seems to restrict their mission to
According to messianic
expectation, the divine promises, which were directed first of all to
Jesus is the eschatological
shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of the house of Israel and goes out in
search of them, because he knows and loves them (see Luke 15:4-7 and Matthew
18:12-14; also see the figure of the Good Shepherd in John 10:11 and the verses
following). By “gathering” them together, the
Thus, the Twelve, who are called
to participate in the same mission as Jesus, work together with the Shepherd of
the end times. They, too, go first of all after the lost sheep of the house of
After the passion and resurrection of Christ, this sign would be made clearer: The universal character of the apostles’ mission would become explicit. Christ sends the apostles “into the whole world” (Mark 16:15), to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47), and “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And this mission continues. The Lord’s mandate to gather together the nations into the unity of his love still continues on. This is our hope and this is also our mandate: to contribute to this universality, to this true unity in the richness of cultures, in communion with our true Lord Jesus Christ.
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