“Our Church’s Baker’s Dozen”
by Lois Donahue
When I think ‘dozen,’ my first reaction is ‘twelve’ and when I think of our Church and ‘twelve’ I automatically think ‘apostles.’ That’s what I would like to write about today – those 12 human pillars Jesus chose as the foundation on which He would build His Church…men most of us have primarily come to know through the necessarily limited information given us in the Bible. It comes as no surprise to you by now that I have a real “thing” about trying to get to know our Biblical ancestors as the ‘real’ people they were and I think when I read Marilyn’s article about the Apostles and their “Creed,” the wheels began to turn. So came my desire to use history, traditions, legends and even speculation to give us a possible insight into ‘who’ each man was – especially in the eyes, minds and hearts of those who knew him personally or learned about him from what they considered to be, and which in a great many instances were, very reliable sources. Hopefully, for us, it might not only help put flesh on his bones but maybe even show us, in a very individualized way, how he chose to deal with life — thereby giving us some sense of the reality of his humanness — humanness which, here and there, may well resemble our own. Also, I hope you will toss in any of your personal thoughts about our Apostles and, pray God, out of all this mix will emerge men we truly enjoy ‘knowing.’
I must admit that when I decided to write about these men, my own, off-the-top-of-my-head, knowledge of the individual apostles was about as extensive as what I knew about the signers of our Declaration of Independence. There were only a few of them with whom I felt somewhat Biblically familiar and that familiarity was definitely limited. For example, I remembered — Peter and how he insisted he did not even know Jesus and then how saddened and ashamed he was when he heard the cock crow — John, as the apostle to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother when they both stood at the foot of the cross — Thomas, who refused to believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he could ‘see’ and ‘touch’ and, of course, Judas, who betrayed Jesus and then, rather than seeking forgiveness, gave up in despair.
I only thought of James in association with Peter and John because I remembered their three names being mentioned together several times but I hadn’t a clue as to which ‘Apostle’ named James that particular one was. I did vaguely recall one Apostle saying, with far from flattering skepticism, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” when he was told about Jesus and that He had come “from Nazareth.” I eventually learned it was Nathanael. Also, I must confess that I never could (and most likely by this time next week will still be unable to) rattle off the names of all twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus and speaking of names — I thought it would be a simple matter to identify these twelve men by name but I soon found, in every instance at least, that just wasn’t the case
To begin with, some of them were referred to by different names. Peter was first known as Simon and, according to both Mk (2:14) and Luke (5:27,) Matthew was also known as Levi. John calls Thomas – Didymus. Bartholomew is the name of one of the Twelve listed by Matthew, Mark and Luke. John never mentions Bartholomew but refers to ‘Nathanael’ and the conclusion has been drawn that it was the same man — Nathanael being his first name and Bartholomew his surname or last name. Jude had a string of names – Jude, Judas, Lebbaeus and Thaddeus. There is a bit more confusion added because in all four ‘name’ listings found in the Bible we discover two of the Apostles named James. In St. Luke’s listing there are two named Judas and, in Matthew, Mark and Luke we find two Simons. (If it is of any help, Bible listings of the Twelve can be found in Matt 10:2, Mk 3:16, Lk 6:14 and Acts 1:13.) By the way — in noting how often the Apostles are referred to as “the Twelve” and that, in those cases, the ‘t’ in Twelve is always capitalized, I came to realize how very important and respected these men were.
Since I continue using the number twelve when speaking of the Apostles and have already given you my mental association with that number and the word “dozen,” any of you who know a “Baker’s Dozen” consists of 13 of ‘anything’ (stemming from the long-ago practice among bakers and tradesmen of giving 13 items to the dozen as a safeguard against penalties for short weights and measures), might question my choice of that term in the above title. My reasoning is simple, although no doubt not theologically sound — Matthias, according to the first chapter of Acts ‘officially’ became an apostle — thereby, in my thinking, making him the 13th man to be so designated — although, for certain, at no one time did 13 ‘Apostles,’ in the original intent of their calling, exist. So, let’s talk about —-
While, without question, Jesus originally chose 12 “Apostles,” Judas, by betrayal, forfeited claim to that title and, after his death and after Jesus had ascended, the time came to heed the words of Psalm 109:8 – “let someone else take his office.” Peter stipulated the basic essentials required of that “someone.” In Peter’s own words, he had to be a man who “…accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us….” (Acts 1:15-26.)
Two were selected and then all prayed for Divine guidance in making a choice. Lots were cast, which was not only a common practice among the Jews at that time, but was also a practice spoken of in the Old Testament and considered “divinely directed.” Thus, Matthias became the accepted successor and, even though I readily admit over-stretching a point by calling him the 13th Apostle so as to fill my Baker’s Dozen, I firmly believe, at that moment, Matthias became one of the “Twelve.”
I became even more convinced of his rightful inclusion after reading what was written in the Book of Revelation long after the whole Judas incident — “the wall of the city had twelve sources of stone foundation on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles…” (Rev. 21:14.) It just didn’t make sense to me that John would have been including Judas as one of those twelve anymore than would Paul when he referred to the ‘apostles’ in Ephesians (2:20.) But I am straying far from Matthias the man. Since he was mentioned only one time in the Bible, we have to draw our information from early Christian writers as well as the usual assortment of legends and traditions.
From those sources I learned that Matthias was like John the Baptist in that he was self-disciplined and uncompromising in both how he lived and what he taught. “Austere” is a word which has been used to describe him. More than one source suggests that he was one of the approximately seventy men Jesus felt were qualified to send ahead to the places He, Himself, planned to visit. It is also said that he taught converts they could not “serve two masters, pleasure and Lord” and that they must “nourish the soul through faith and knowledge.” The fact that early Christian writers mention him by name would certainly lead us to believe he was comparatively important in our Church beginnings.
As to where he traveled carrying the message of the Good News, Armenian tradition credits him with evangelizing that country and we find him also associated with Palestine and Scythia (a region in Europe/Asia which eventually became part of the Soviet Union.) A questionable tradition which would probably make the headlines on one of the supermarket tabloids is that he was put in prison and blinded by cannibals but, fortunately, rescued by St. Andrew. Somewhere in his life span, it is also said, that he wrote one of the apocryphal gospels which the Church has not accepted as inspired.
There are differences of opinion as to where he died, Judah, Colchis or Sebastopol, and whether he suffered martyrdom by crucifixion, stoning – by lance or by axe. He has been represented with symbols which do not add clarity to the way he was martyred since both a cross and an axe have been used and ‘stoning’ could have preceded any method used to kill him.