For the longest time I questioned (and still question), why Jesus chose the 12 apostles that he did? I realize we all need an inner circle of trusted confidants, sounding boards, soul mates, good friends; I get that. Yet, given the fact that the apostles are portrayed so poorly in all four gospels, why choose these and not some others? The other question, that I do not have an answer to is: why did Jesus appear, after the resurrection, to certain women and men but not to others? If I can figure out the criteria Jesus was using when he chose the 12, I might be able to figure out the criteria Jesus was using when he appeared to some, in the flesh, but not to others. But who cares? Really, what I need to know, not just out of curiosity, is: Does Jesus still call us, here and now? And, does he still appear to us, here and now? Good for those people back then, but I need a Saviour who is just as real for me now as he was for those people back then.
Let’s look at the first question: why did Jesus choose those 12 and not others to be part of his inner circle? I would like to quote the quotable Fr. Richard Rohr who is quoting a friend of his. This friend of Richard Rohr, a number of years ago, was writing a book on spirituality and sent a few pages to Richard just to see what he thought. This person had seen the movie Rocky III (this is one of eight sequels to the original movie that came out in 1976). In Rocky III, if you remember, Rocky has at this point become more or less a complacent, high-living champion. He’s done his warrior (archetype) bit earlier, and he’s sort of enjoying the fruits of it. His manager, (the dirty, squinty-eyed, rat-faced guy played by Burgess Meredith) says to him, “When a boxer becomes civilized, that spells the death of his boxing career.” Right after that, his former foe tells Rocky, “You’ve lost the eye of the tiger.”
Have you ever looked into a tiger’s eye? What immediately grips you is that the tiger is right there, all 450 lbs focused with a gleaming, maximum attention on you. No distractions, no hesitations, just a calm, powerful contemplation of you. He says Rocky no longer has the eye of the tiger. He’s no longer hungry for victory. He’s got no dreams left. There’s no need left in his eyes, no hungry need. The only way an athlete can keep his edge and stay focused like the tiger, is if he stays hungry. So, his manager takes him away from the three-ringed circus of the gym where he’s only half training in between signing autographs and posing for pictures. The manager brings him down to a back-alley gym filled with youthful contenders. And as Rocky looks around and searches their eyes, he could see that every one of them had the eye of the tiger that he had lost. They were still hungry for what was still possible to wring out of their otherwise empty lives.
Then he makes, interestingly enough in this book, a comparison with Jesus. He says Jesus began his public career with 40 days in the desert deciding who to call as his disciples. His criteria were not: Who has the greatest talent? Or, the greatest social grace? Or, who is the most morally upright? There is no evidence of that. He says, “I believe he looked into the eyes of the men he had met and chose, and he looked for those who had the eye of the tiger. He looked for those who were hungry for life, who wanted something more, who were willing to drop everything for the great adventure. So, he passed by scholars. He ignored the rabbis. He dismissed the socially prominent, and he chose from a hungrier class.” He says, “that’s why most revolutions come from the bottom, where you have to be hungry, not the top.” The hungry group are the rough, the illiterate, some that we might call “terrorists,” perhaps criminals, the immoral minority, the black-market people, the local Mafioso. They (the apostles) could have been anything at all, as long as they had the look, as long as they had “need” written all over their faces.
That makes a lot of sense to me when I think about the criteria Jesus was working from when he chose those 12 and not any other 12. They were the hungry ones.
Let’s look at the second question: why did the Resurrected Lord appear to certain women and men but not to others?
If we look to Jesus’ life and his ministry, one of the things you will notice is that he is always moving to where people are at. He goes to Bethany, then to Jerusalem, to Galilee, to Caesarea, to the Decapolis, to Capernaum; he is always on the go. He is like a bloodhound following a scent. What is he looking for as he goes from place to place? He’s looking for people who live on the edge either because they were born there or the circumstances of life have pushed them there. All his life he was seeking out the lost, the lepers, the widows, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the children, the powerless, the hopeless, the forgotten of society…even the dead!
He goes to those who are hungry. They hunger for friendship, for inclusion, for love, for understanding, for healing, for self-esteem, for meaning, for life. He is food for the world as he has already told us, “My body is food for the life of the world.” He is not food for Catholics or Christians alone; he is food for the world. All he ever wanted to do was to get in the way of our mouths. If we allow him to—and we might not–he will be the nourishment, the food that satisfies our deepest desires. All we have to do is provide the hunger. Just show up hungry. That’s it. So, if Jesus, while he walked the earth went from place to place, satisfying peoples’ deepest hunger, why would the Resurrected Christ be any different? Now we know why the Resurrected Christ appeared to some and not to others.
In his resurrected state, Jesus is still going to the edges and the bottom. Why? Because that’s where the hungry people are. Self-satisfied people—those who have little need for others or for God– always live in the comfortable middle or have bought or influenced their way to the top. When you think you have it altogether, you eventually lose the ability to call on God.
Who does the Resurrected Lord appear to? To those who need resurrection. It’s not by accident that Jesus appears to them. It’s the people in the jails that the Risen Christ comes to. It’s the people in war-torn countries, the people in refugee camps, the people in Africa who are wondering where there next meal will come from, the woman trapped in an abusive relationship, the man caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s, the teenager who feels depressed and suicidal…these are the one who have the best chance at seeing the Resurrected Christ. Jesus, while he walked this earth hid from no one. Jesus in his resurrected state hid from no one. But only some people saw him. They were the hungry ones. Now I know the answer to my two questions: why he called these 12 and not others, and why he appeared to some and not others. The answer is the same for both. He simply looked for the hungry, those with the “eye of the tiger.” Guess what? He has never stopped. No wonder he compares the Kingdom of God to a banquet. The table is ladened with rich food; the banquet hall is ready. All he needs is for us to show up hungry.
Fr. Phil Mulligan