Jesus’ disciples must have been an unruly bunch.
We get glimpses of it in the Gospels, but I’m getting the idea that the written accounts are only scratching the surface.
First of all, you’ve got James and John. The ones Jesus called “Sons of Thunder”. If there’s a storm anywhere, you can almost guarantee these guys will be in it somewhere.
Simon Peter. Famous for his “speak first, think later” mentality.
But the pairing that really strikes me is Matthew the tax-collector and Simon the Zealot.
Simon’s fascinating in his own right as one of the Twelve. The Zealots, of course, were hardcore revolutionaries, dedicated to throwing off the yoke of the evil pagan Roman tyranny by force and setting up a proper Divine monarchy in the image of King David.
What’s the Prince of Peace doing with a known violent terrorist in His inner circle?
It’s been speculated that Judas Iscariot was a member of that party, too. His mysterious surname has been interpreted as “man who carries a sicarius“, which was a long-bladed knife of the period. It was supposedly the mark of a group of Zealots who engaged in assassinations of Roman officials. Judas the Dagger-Man, in other words.
Translating their nicknames paints a rather more dramatic picture of the Twelve. Stony Simon, the Thunder-Boys, Judas the Assassin and Simon the Terrorist sound more like Mob enforcers than pillars of the early church.
But add Matthew the tax-collector into the mix, and it’s clear that the Twelve were a ticking bomb.
Matthew’s a representative of the puppet government that the Zealots were pledged to overthrow. A collaborator. He made his living serving the evil pagan foreign government that Simon and his cohorts wanted to tear down. There’s all the general hatred of the tax-man we’re familiar with, plus the religious overtones of “how is a good Jewish believer supposed to support a pagan foreign Emperor who stoops even to declaring his own godhood?”.
Clearly, political arguments are nothing new. Matthew, the pagan government’s local hired hand, presumably wealthy but despised as a turncoat collaborator, and Simon, fanatic opponent of the foreign ruler whose taxes Matthew collected.
What could bring Simon the Terrorist and Matthew the Tax-Man together?
What’s more, the Scripture records a startlingly low number of their political quarrels: None.
In the light of the Resurrection morning, it all undoubtedly seemed a whole lot less significant.
Believe in big government? Hate the abuses of the system perpetrated by the wealthy? You’re in good company. Matthew the Tax-Collector would probably be called a leftist in today’s political landscape. And it’s this man that God chose to write the first of our four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Small government advocate? Outright anarchist? Hate the oppression of godless government? Simon the Zealot would no doubt recognise you as a natural ally. And while he was not selected by God to do something like writing a Gospel account, according to early church tradition he served his Master faithfully and gave his life for the faith at the hands of those he had once striven to overthrow.
At different times, the Church has looked a bit like a reincarnation of either of those two extremes: the Matthew Church, part of the establishment and connected to the power structures of the day, and the Simon Church, wild and passionate, dedicated to opposing the evil pagan system by whatever means necessary. I’d suggest that in many ways a lot of modern American Christianity is much more Zealot-like in orientation, but that’s a matter of opinion.
The important thing is that Jesus called both Simon and Matthew to something bigger than politics. When the mission is nothing less that telling the entire inhabited earth about the good news of God’s rescue plan put into effect through the death and resurrection of Jesus, it kind of makes the question of whether monotheist Jews need to pay taxes to a pagan look… small.
There’s a world to win, and time’s running out. Jesus is coming back soon; He said so. Political arguments can wait.