|Following the example of the first Apostles,
today's Christians are called to build the unity of all people in
communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Wednesday morning, 22 March, the Holy Father spoke to the
faithful gathered for the weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square
about the Apostles as witnesses sent out by Christ.... The following is a translation of the Holy
Father's Catechesis, given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Letter to the Ephesians presents the Church to us as a structure
built "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus
himself being the cornerstone" (Eph 2:20). In the Book of Revelation the
role of the Apostles, and more specifically, of the Twelve, is explained
in the eschatological perspective of the heavenly Jerusalem, presented as
a city whose walls "had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names
of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb" (21:14).
The Gospels agree in mentioning that the call of the Apostles marked
the first steps of Jesus' ministry, after the baptism he received from
John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.
'Fishers of men'
According to the accounts of Mark (1:16-20) and of Matthew (4:18.22),
the scene of the call of the first Apostles is the Sea of Galilee. Jesus
had just begun to preach about the Kingdom of God when his gaze came to
rest upon two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, and James and John. They
were fishermen busy with their daily work, casting their nets and mending
But it was another sort of fishing that awaited them. Jesus
purposefully called them and they promptly followed him: subsequently,
they were to become "fishers of men" (cf. Mk 1:17; Mt 4:19). Luke, while
following the same tradition, gave a more elaborate account (5:1-11).
Luke's account illustrates the development of the first disciples'
faith, explaining that Jesus' invitation to follow him came after they had
heard his first preaching and had seen the first miraculous catch in
particular was the immediate context, and it gave its symbol to the
mission of fishers of men that was entrusted to them. The destiny of those
who were "called" would henceforth be closely bound to that of Jesus. An
apostle is one who is sent, but even before that he is an "expert" on
This very aspect is highlighted by the Evangelist John from Jesus' very
first encounter with the future Apostles. Here the scene is different. The
meeting takes place of the Jordan. The presence of the future disciples,
who, like Jesus, also came from Galilee to receive the baptism
administered by John sheds light on their spiritual.
They were men who were waiting for the Kingdom of God, anxious to know
the Messiah whose coming had been proclaimed as imminent. It was enough
for John the Baptist to point out Jesus to them as the Lamb of God (cf. Jn
1:36), to inspire in them the desire for a personal encounter with the
'Come and see'
The lines of Jesus' conversation with the first two future Apostles are
most expressive. To his question "What do you seek?", they replied with
another question: "'Rabbi' (which means Teacher), where are you staying?".
Jesus' answer was an invitation: "Come and see" (cf. Jn 1:38-39). Come, so
that you will be able to see.
This is how the Apostles' adventure began, as an encounter of people
who are open to one another. For the disciples, it was the beginning of a
direct acquaintance with the Teacher, seeing where he was staying and
starting to get to know him. Indeed, they were not to proclaim an idea,
but to witness to a person.
Before being sent out to preach, they had to "be" with Jesus (cf. Mk
3:14), establishing a personal relationship with him. On this basis,
evangelization was to be no more than the proclamation of what they felt
and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ (cf.
I Jn 1:1-3).
To whom would the Apostles be sent? In the Gospel Jesus seemed to limit
his mission to Israel alone: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel"
(Mt 15:24). In a similar way he seemed to restrict the mission entrusted
to the Twelve: "These Twelve Jesus sent out, charging them: 'Go nowhere
among Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the
lost sheep of the house of Israel'" (Mt 10:5ff.).
A certain rationally inspired modern criticism saw these words as
showing a lack of universal awareness by the Nazarene. Actually, they
should be understood in the light of his special relationship with Israel,
the community of the Covenant, in continuity with the history of
'I will save my flock'
According to the Messianic expectation, the divine promises directly
addressed to Israel would reach fulfilment when God himself had gathered
his people through his Chosen One as a shepherd gathers his flock: "I will
save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey...I will set up over them
one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them and be their
shepherd. And I, the Lord, shall be their God, and my servant David will
be prince among them" (Ez 34:22-24).
Jesus is the eschatological shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of the
house of Israel and goes in search of them because he knows and loves them
(cf. Lk 15:4-7, Mt 18:12-14; cf. also the figure of the Good Shepherd in
Jn 10:11ff). Through this "gathering together", the Kingdom of God is
proclaimed to all peoples: "I will set my glory among the nations; and all
the nations shall see my judgment which I have executed, and my hand which
I have laid on them" (Ez 39:21). And Jesus followed precisely this
prophetic indication. His first step was to "gather together" the people
of Israel, so that all the people called to gather in communion with the
Lord might see and believe.
Thus, the Twelve, taken on to share in the same mission as Jesus,
cooperate with the Pastor of the last times, also seeking out the lost
sheep of the house of Israel, that is, addressing the people of the
promise whose reunion is the sign of salvation for all peoples, the
beginning of the universalization of the Covenant.
Far from belying the universal openness of the Nazarene's Messianic
action, the initial restriction to Israel of his mission and of the Twelve
thus becomes an even more effective prophetic sign. After Christ's passion
and Resurrection, this sign was to be made clear: the universal character
of the Apostle's mission was to become explicit. Christ would send the
Apostles "to the whole of creation" (Mk 16:15), to "all nations", (Mt
28:19, Lk 24:47), "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
And this mission continues. The Lord's command to gather the peoples
together in the unity of his love still continues. This is our hope and
also our mandate: to contribute to this universality, to this true unity
in the riches of cultures, in the communion with our true Lord Jesus