Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. –Mark 3:13-19
Let’s take a minute to get to know the strange band of characters that Jesus picked to be his closest friends. You can tell a lot about a person by looking to see who their friends are. And when you look at Jesus’ friends… well, they certainly are characters. Let’s meet a couple of them.
First up, there’s Peter. His name means “rock,” and not just because he was a dumb as a rock (which he kind of was). Well, it’s not so much that he was dumb, but more that his heart was bigger than his brain. His mouth was always getting him into trouble, because he would always spout off the first thing that came into his head, even if it wasn’t the wisest thing to say. And yet he really was big-hearted; he was one of the first of Jesus’ disciples to embrace who Jesus really was, and he loved Jesus fiercely. Even when he messed up (which he did, big time, repeatedly), he found Jesus welcoming him back.
Then there were the brothers James and John, whom Jesus nicknamed “Sons of Thunder,” because, sort of like Peter, they were loud and strong—strong-hearted but also strong-headed. These guys were fisherman, which meant they were tough, and they were some of Jesus’ closest friends. He loved their fire and their passion, even though that passion sometimes got them into trouble, like the time they decided that they were better than the other disciples and that they should get thrones right next to Jesus (eye roll, right?). Jesus set them straight in no uncertain terms: greatness in his kingdom, Jesus said, wasn’t measured by how strong you were, but by how much you served others. Even though it took a while, they eventually got the message, and went on to spend the rest of their lives serving others and telling everyone how great Jesus was.
Next came Andrew. Andrew was one of the very first people to follow Jesus, and he loved telling people about him. In fact, he was the one who first brought his brother Peter to meet Jesus. Even though he wasn’t as loud or talkative as some of the other disciples, it seems like Andrew really understood Jesus; he was the first to believe that Jesus was the promised King, the first to tell others about him, the first to understand what Jesus’ miracles were about.
And then there was Thomas. Thomas was a pessimist, which meant he always saw the bad side of everything. He was like Eeyore, complaining about the weather and everything else too. He’s only recorded saying three things in the gospels, and all of them were grumbling, complaining, and whining. But Jesus loved him anyway, and after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas’ pessimism was turned upside-down, and he spent the rest of his life travelling all over the world telling people how Jesus was alive.
Matthew and Simon were polar opposites; they couldn’t possibly be more different. Matthew had been a tax collector before he met Jesus, which means he had been a traitor who worked with the invading Romans to take people’s money. Everyone hated tax collectors… well, everyone except Jesus. And Simon was a Zealot, which meant he was part of a group dedicated to overthrowing the Romans and kicking them out of Israel. That sounds like a good goal, except that the Zealots were violent and would kill anyone who got in their way. In fact, they were more like terrorists than anything else. So Jesus had picked a terrorist and a tax collector (which was the kind of person that a terrorist would like to kill), and made them both part of his team. These were two guys who used to hate each other more than anything else in the world… but Jesus brought them together and changed both their lives.
And finally, there was Judas, who would go on to betray Jesus (spoiler alert). And actually, he was more than a traitor; he was a thief, too. He was good with money and so the group had put him in charge of keeping all their money, but instead of keeping it safe, he would spend it on himself. Even though he spent three years with Jesus and saw all his miracles, in the end it turned out that he loved money more than he loved Jesus; when he had the opportunity, he ended up selling out Jesus for just thirty pieces of silver.
Can you believe that these were the friends that Jesus chose? Don’t you think he should have chosen… well, better friends? This bumbling group of twelve knuckleheads were the last people you’d expect the King to pick to be his closest companions.
Except that this King was always picking the last people you’d expect. He was always loving the unlovable and forgiving the unforgivable, and hanging out with the sinners and the sick and the hurting. He had come to serve the least and the forgotten, the lowly and the losers. No wonder he picked these guys. And no wonder he loves people like you and me.