Year of the Priest: History of the Priesthood: Jesus chooses 12

12apostlesJesus went around referring to Himself as “The Bridegroom”. I think it is fair to say that the leaders of the Temple understood Him all too well-and they didn’t like it. He was calling Himself a priest-a priest of the old pre Levitical order-a priest like David and Solomon and a priest like Adam and Abraham. He also went around forgiving sins; something only God can do. Something the High Priest only had the authority to do once a year (remember when Zachariah met the angel and lost his voice so he couldn’t give the absolution blessing?). Jesus offered proof of His authority through His miracles.

He raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons and calmed storms. Witnesses could see His power first hand. They were then to decide whether this man Jesus really was the Messiah they had been promised and had been awaiting for generations-or whether he was just another wannabe.

The Messiah would restore Israel. All of it. Not just Judea (in the south) with Judah, Benjamin and some Levites-but the WHOLE of Israel.

Jesus chose 12 men and a lot of them came from the north, Galilee. We are not told what tribes they all hail from, only that they are Galilean. So they were probably a bit of a mix but not many Israelites were around. In choosing 12-Jesus is speaking about the whole of Israel. The men are not all Levites (John was related to the High Priest so he may have been but we are not told). We are also not told how old the men were. While it seems likely most were older, tradition at least tells us John was well under thirty-the age a priest could be ordained.

The question modern people raise is why all men? Where are the women? And the silly answer is that Jesus was tied by the conventions of the time. The men he chose gives the lie to this.

Non Levites? A tax collector and some fishermen? The reason Jesus chose men as priests for His Church is that God has ordained that the priest is a father (and women can’t be fathers). From the time of Adam priests are fathers either in the biological sense as Adam to Seth or the spiritual sense of Abraham to Lot Melchizadek to Abraham or later the Levites to the rest of Israel “Be to me a father and a priest.” (Jdg 17:10) Fathers and priests were to sacrifice for the family, priests for the sins of his family, and to serve that family as a father.

Jesus (being God) chose men to be to us Fathers and Priests. Then He began to show them what they were to do in that role. At the feeding of the 5000 it is the apostles who distribute the food-and Jesus who miraculously ensures there is enough to go around and then have 12 baskets full left at the end. Again He is speaking of feeding all Israel, not just a few.

The next question must surely be “Why Judas?”

The story of Judas is an embarrassment and a lesson. Judas, it seems, like the others in fact, was hoping for a king who would take political power and he, Judas would get to share that power. All those people demanding women priests tend to talk about power-never service and sacrifice. Judas went along with the tramping about and preaching because there was apparently a plan. He lost his faith after the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.  The people were going to make Him king. Judas must have thought his luck was in. But Jesus went off somewhere quiet to avoid this happening.

The next day the people came to Jesus and in an act of incredible cheek said “Show us a sign so we can believe what you say.” (Jn 6:30) They went on to say they expected food like that (easy come) every day like Moses provided in the desert.

Jesus didn’t lose His temper. He went on to try and teach them something. He said very clearly “Eat My Body and drink My Blood”. He used very strong language too “chew on” was the word. I wonder if anyone there understood Him at all. A great many were just horrified at the idea of eating Jesus. They didn’t understand and they were not going to wait and see what He meant. So they walked away. At this point if he had been honest, Judas should have walked away too. But he didn’t. That’s not to say the other eleven understood what Jesus was saying, but they were willing to wait and see.

Peter spoke for all as usual saying “Where shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.” (or similar words).

After this though, Judas set about looking for a way to betray Jesus.

It has been suggested by many saints and scholars that the Eucharist has been the stumbling block for many a Judas in the history of the Church. Jesus kept Judas close and he had plenty of opportunities to change his mind, but he didn’t. He went ahead and betrayed Our Lord.  But the Church survived and was strengthened dispite him. And over the next 2000+ years there would be many bishops and priests who were like Judas and still the Church went on because at her heart is the Eucharist; The body, blood soul and divinity of Christ.


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