Denis McBride tells the story of a family in Boston who employed a biographer to research and write up the history of the family as a present for the retiring patriarch. Care was needed however when it came to mentioning ‘Great Uncle George’ who was executed in the electric chair after committing a murder. In the end the biographer came up with the following: “Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at a famous government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest of ties and his death came as a real shock.”
Today’s gospel from Matthew speaks of the calling of ‘twelve disciples’, given authority to cast out unclean spirts and heal the sick; Mark, the first gospel to be written, speaks of Jesus appointing ‘the twelve’ to go out and preach the message of Jesus and cast out demons; Luke refers to them as ‘twelve apostles’, also commissioned to heal the sick and cast out demons in Jesus’ name. The accounts therefore are all very similar though the lists of names do occasionally differ. What the writers do not do however is provide us with any biographical details. No creative writing techniques like the one above are employed. Most of these pioneers who were at the forefront of the church’s earliest history appear simply as a list of names. Judas – perhaps the Great Uncle George of his day – we know a little about him and the only four who might stand out are the two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. And even Andrew soon disappears from the scene whilst James is martyred in first decade of the church’s history. John is identified as the beloved disciple in the Fourth gospel. So that leaves Peter, whom we also know as someone with a lot of baggage, and about whom we have any significant knowledge. I don’t think this small band would have been especially comfortable in our own age where the cult of personality dominates every aspect of political and social life. So how then do we remember them if not by name?
Well, they are known not for who they were but for what they did, which was simply to enable that nascent, emerging community we call church to grow and extend far beyond the boundaries of a fairly insignificant piece of Roman- occupied land that we know as Israel. They were called and commissioned to point others to the living Lord. And because we are baptised into this church community we too are called to do the same. Perhaps not in dramatic ways; rather, we do it quietly and imperceptibly, and within the framework of our own daily living. But we should never underestimate the difference we can and do make.