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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mark 3:13–19. Mat. 10:1–42. Luke 6:12; 9:1]

THE number of followers and admirers of our Lord, even from distant countries, kept increasing as time went on. One day when the multitude were around Jesus, eager to hear His teaching, He had compassion on them, for they were as sheep without a shepherd. He said to His disciples: “The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth labourers into His vineyard.”

After He had spent the night in prayer, and day being come, He called together His disciples, and chose from among them twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them to preach. Now the twelve whom He called apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John the sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the publican; James, son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus; Simon called the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot.

Having chosen His apostles, Jesus commanded them to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and announce to them that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He also gave them power to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out devils. He told them not to take anything with them on their journey, because the labourer is worthy of his hire.

Jesus spoke: “When you come into a house, say: ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if that house be worthy, your peace shall come upon it; but if it be not worthy, your peace shall return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, going forth out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for that city.

“Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves1. Be ye, therefore, wise1 as serpents and harmless1 as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors and before kings, for My sake. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. Fear not those that kill the body, and cannot kill the soul; but rather fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.

“Whosoever, therefore, shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. And he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not up his cross and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it. He that receiveth you, receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me. And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, Amen, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

When our Divine Lord had thus told his apostles what they had to expect from the world, He sent them, two by two, into every city and place, preaching the word of God, and doing the work that He had commanded them to do.

The prayer of Jesus. Why did our Lord pass the night in prayer before choosing His apostles? What was it that He laid before His heavenly Father as He knelt all alone? He was about to take an important step, and to lay the foundation of His Church by this choice of His apostles. He prayed for those whom He was about to choose, and for their successors, as well as for the countless Jews and Gentiles who through their preaching would be brought into the Church. “That holy night passed by our Lord in prayer and watching is the Vigil of the Founding of the Catholic and Apostolic Church. On that mysterious night the soul of our Saviour must have been full of the deepest contemplation of His unfathomable work of love, of its results and destiny, as well as of thanksgiving to His Eternal Father for this great and beautiful new creation. He spent the night in prayer, wrestling with God for its welfare and final victory” (Reischl).

The common office of the Apostles. Picture to yourselves the little company of the twelve apostles—twelve plain, unlearned men! Let us see for what object our Lord singled them out. He intended that, when He Himself had ascended into heaven, they should go forth into the world to preach the Gospel. They were to conquer the world for Him, and carry on His work of Redemption by delivering His truth and grace to mankind. What a gigantic task! Therefore, to make them more fit for this great office, our Lord chose them Himself, kept them constantly with Him, prayed for them, and made them His chief care. The whole Church is founded on the apostles, and is therefore called the Apostolic Church.

The miraculous preservation and extension of the Church. The question is, why did our Lord Jesus Christ choose for this stupendous office twelve ignorant men, of a low station in life, and of no importance in the eyes of the world? It was to show to the whole world that the maintenance and spread of the Church and her doctrine were not due to human wisdom and learning, but solely to His grace and protection. “The foolish things of the world hath God chosen that He may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen that He may confound the strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen; and things that are not, that He might bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His sight” (1 Cor. 1:27, 28, 29).

The Primacy of Peter. A list of the apostles is given four times, viz. in the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke, and in the Acts of the Apostles. In each, St. Peter’s name is put first; and St. Matthew expressly calls him “the first” (Matth. 10:2). In what way was St. Peter the first of the apostles? He was the third, not the first, to be called (chapter XIII), but all the same he was the first in rank, being ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ to be the chief of the apostles. We have already come across several passages in the New Testament which point to his primacy. When our Lord first called him, He gave him the name of Peter. His mother-in-law was the first of many sick whom Jesus healed. It was Peter’s boat from which He chose to preach; and it was to Peter especially that the miraculous draught of fishes was given, as also the promise that henceforth he should be a fisher of men.

The Necessity of Prayer. As Jesus prayed perseveringly and fervently, before He chose His apostles, so ought we to begin every important undertaking by prayer, so as to ensure God’s help and blessing.

The Number of the Apostles. Our Lord chose twelve apostles, this number having been fore-ordained, and pre-figured in the Old Testament by the twelve patriarchs. The kingdom of the Messias sprang from Israel, the chosen people of God; and even as Israel was descended from the twelve sons of Jacob (or Israel), so does the spiritual Israel or New Covenant of grace, the Church, proceed from the twelve spiritual sons of the true Israel (or Wrestler), Jesus Christ. Whoever was descended from Jacob’s twelve sons, belonged to the Old Covenant, and had a share in its promises. In like manner, whoever wishes to belong to the New Covenant, and enjoy its treasures of grace, must be spiritually descended from the twelve apostles, the patriarchs of the Church, or, in other words, must be a member of the One Apostolic Church.

Proofs of our Lord’s Divinity. We have already seen with awe the miraculous power of Jesus, by which He showed Himself to be Lord over all creation, even over death and hell, and we saw that this miraculous power was in Himself, and was the result of His Divine Omnipotence. The chapter we have just read makes this even more clear; for we see Him hand over the power of working miracles to His apostles, sending them forth in His name to work miracles, to heal the sick, and cast out devils. How could Jesus have imparted this power to others, if He were not Almighty—if He were not God?

The fear of man and the fear of God. Our Lord told His apostles to fear God more than men, because these last could, at the worst, only deprive them of their mortal life, but that God could cast both their souls and bodies into hell. Christians ought never to do anything, or leave anything undone out of human respect. Daniel, Susanna, the seven Machabees, and the apostles before the council, are splendid examples of how the fear of man is overcome by the fear of God.

Confidence in Divine Providence. Our Lord said to His apostles, when He sent them out: “Not one sparrow shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore: better are you than many sparrows.”

Necessity and merit of good works. St. Chrysostom writes thus: “So that none might plead poverty as an excuse for not ministering to Christ in the person of His disciples, Jesus cites a cup of cold water as a gift which, though it costs nothing, is a proof of love.”

The anointing of the sick with oil. We are told (Mark 6:13) that the apostles whom our Lord sent out “anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them”. This was not the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, but it was a type of, and a preparation for it. The anointing here mentioned worked visibly and cured the body: Extreme Unction works invisibly, and primarily heals and strengthens the soul.

The high dignity of the Apostles, and their successors and assistants, consists in this, that they are the true representatives of Christ. He who receives them, receives our Lord; he who listens to them, listens to Him; he who ministers to them, ministers to Him.

APPLICATION. Have you ever told lies? or neglected your prayers out of human respect? You ask far too often what such and such people will think, and too little what Almighty God will think, Let your thoughts dwell on hell; and pray for the gift of holy fear.

Pray often, and especially at Mass, for the successors of the Apostles, the Pope and the bishops.








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