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WEEKLY CATECHESIS

Apostles Are Witnesses to Jesus in the World

BY John Lilly

April 2-8, 2006 Issue | Posted 4/3/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Register Summary

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.” St. John in particular presents the calling of the Twelve Apostles as the fruit of a life-changing, personal encounter with the Lord, Pope Benedict noted. “Before being sent to evangelize, they would have to ‘be’ with Jesus and establish a personal relationship with him. Upon such a foundation, evangelization is above all a proclamation of what has been experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ.”

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 house of Israel.” The Holy Father made clear that his prophetic act should be understood in the light of Israel’s messianic expectation, according to which God, through Jesus his chosen one, would gather his people like a shepherd who gathers his flock. This “gathering” is the sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom and the extension of his saving power to every nation and people.

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 Jerusalem, presented as a city whose wall has “12 courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the 12 names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). The Gospels all agree in recounting that the call of the apostles marked the first steps of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.

According to the accounts in Mark (1:16-20) and Matthew (4:18-22), the setting for the call of the first apostles is the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just begun to preach the Kingdom of God when two pairs of brothers catch his eye: Simon and Andrew, James and John. They are fishermen who are devoted to their daily labor. They cast their nets and rearrange them. Another catch, however, is awaiting them. In a very decisive way, Jesus calls them and they readily follow him. From now on, they will be “fishers of men” (see Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19).

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 of the Jordan. The presence of the future disciples, who, like Jesus, came from Galilee to experience John’s baptism, sheds light on their spiritual world. They were men who were awaiting the Kingdom of God and who longed to know the Messiah, whose coming had been proclaimed as imminent.

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 Israel alone: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Likewise, he seems to limit the mission entrusted to the Twelve: “Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, ‘Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 10:5). A certain criticism, inspired by rationalism, saw the lack of a universal consciousness in Jesus of Nazareth’s words. In reality, they must be understood in the light of his special relationship with Israel, the community of the Covenant, in continuity with the history of salvation.

According to messianic expectation, the divine promises, which were directed first of all to Israel, would be fulfilled when God himself, through his chosen one, gathers his people together like a shepherd gathers his flock: “I will save my sheep so that they may no longer be despoiled. … I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David; he shall pasture them and be their shepherd. I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them” (see Ezekiel 34:22-24).

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 Kingdom of God is proclaimed to all nations: “Thus I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see the judgment I have executed and the hand I have laid upon them” (Ezekiel 39:21). Indeed, Jesus fulfills these prophetic words exactly. His first step is to “gather” together the people of Israel, so that in this way all nations, which are called to gather together in communion with the Lord, may see and believe.

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 Israel, directing their message to the people of the promise, whose gathering is sign of the salvation for all nations — the beginning of the universalization of the covenant. Rather than contradicting the universal opening of Jesus of Nazareth’s messianic work, the initial restriction of his mission and of the mission of the Twelve to Israel becomes a prophetic sign that is even more effective.

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.

(Register translation)