Mark 3: 13-19a – Institution of Twelve Apostles

This is an important passage in connection with the theme of discipleship in Mark’s gospel. The text describes the appointment of the twelve (Mk 3: 13-15) and it lists their names (Mk 3: 16-19).

The institution of the twelve disciples as a group is made solemn by the mountain scene. In biblical tradition ‘mountain’ signifies nearness to God; and going up to the mountain implies a separation from all that is earthly and human and entering into the realm of the divine. Jesus ascends the mountain and calls those whom he himself wished and they come to him (Mk 3: 13). As in the call narratives (Mk 1: 16-20; 2: 14), here again the initiative is with Jesus. It is Jesus who calls and he calls only those whom he himself wanted, those he himself preferred. Their response to the call is indicated by the statement, “they came to him”.

Jesus then appoints the group of the twelve. The number twelve may be an allusion to the twelve tribes of Israel (Cf. Mt 19: 28; Lk 22: 30). If so, by this solemn institution Jesus is laying the foundations of the new Israel, the Church. The purpose of the institution of the Twelve is twofold: to be with him and to be sent out to preach (Mk 3: 14). To be with Jesus is the primary purpose of the Twelve. This means remaining in close communion with Jesus, listening to him and accompanying him. In fact “to be with Jesus” is a technical term in Mark for “discipleship” (Cf. Mk 5: 18; 14: 67). Discipleship thus becomes Christo-centric in its finality, in its purpose. Jesus himself is the centre of this group and he it is who gives it form and content.

The second purpose of the institution is that they may be sent out to preach and to have authority over unclean spirits (Mk 3: 14-15). It is Jesus who sends them out to preach and who gives them authority over demons (Cf. Mk 6: 7-13). The Twelve are to be commissioned and empowered by Jesus to share his own ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God in word and action. As emissaries of Jesus, the disciples are his representatives and in their activities he himself will be present. The Christo-centric nature of discipleship is emphasised in the double purpose of the institution of the Twelve.

The New Testament presents four lists of the Twelve (Mk 3: 16-19; Mt 10: 2-4; Lk 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13). In all these lists Simon Peter is mentioned first. This fact indicates his special position of importance. Certain variations and discrepancies found in these lists may be due to the fact that while the institution of the Twelve was firmly in the tradition, their names and the order of listing the names were circulated independently in different Churches.

Reflection

The result of our response to the Good News of the kingdom is not merely individual conversion and individual salvation. It is important to become a community of relationship, having a mission to fulfil in the world. We are called “to be with Jesus” and to be a community in the family, in the Church, and in our society with a definite function to fulfil. Individualistic devotion or spirituality is not an adequate sign of following Jesus.

The community of the Twelve consisted of people of varied background and temperament. Some were fishermen: one was Cananean, probably a member of the Zealot group who wanted to liberate Palestine from Roman rule by the use of arms; and there was also Judas among the Twelve who became a traitor. Our communities are not different, and yet it is our common mission that should bind us all into one.

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