The Musings of Joseph Barsabbas
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Piers Linley imagines the one disciple’s reaction to the sending out of the twelve.
I was born and bred in Galilee: my misfortune was to be the third son of my family. Our small plot of land would not support so many and I was compelled to leave the village and fend for myself as a hired labourer. A desperate situation — as soon as ill health or failing strength made such work impossible I would be in danger of starving.
When John the Baptiser appeared near the Jordan proclaiming the forgiveness of sins I had nothing to lose by going to him. More importantly than my own baptism was that while I was with John, Jesus himself came to be baptised and took up the preaching of forgiveness from John. It was a sideways step to join myself to the band of disciples Jesus gathered round him and to tramp the countryside with him. We were an assorted — and occasionally quarrelsome – group. Peter, our leader, and some of the others had been fishermen. There were women in our company. We moved from village to village frequently. The long tradition of hospitality ensured that most villages at least fed us something. We often slept in the open air.
Jesus was a fluent and elegant speaker whose words fascinated many — no man ever bested him in argument — though on one memorable occasion a Syrophoenician woman out-joked him!
Jesus often spoke in riddles and stories which stirred the imagination — though whether the crowd understood him was doubtful. He sometimes explained the stories to us privately but we were also slow to understand.
Jesus cast out demons. He healed the sick — this attracted many to seek him out. Quite early on he selected twelve of us to preach and to cast out demons. They did not actually do so immediately, however.
The day came when we went to Nazareth, the home village of Jesus. Jesus had been a craftsman there and his family still lived there. How could they receive him? He had a destiny far beyond what his background would have endorsed. They rejected him roughly: even his family was hostile — though some of them were to become his supporters after his resurrection.
It was very shortly after this disappointment that Jesus revived his earlier idea of the twelve disciples taking up the preaching and casting out demons and healing the sick. They were to go out, two by two, with only the sandals and staff they needed for the journey — no other provisions at all, not even small change! They discovered that they could rely on hospitality most of the time for their food.
But there were households which rejected them: Jesus commanded a stern judgment to be demonstrated on such — they were to be branded as not true Israelites by shaking off the dust of one’s sandals against them. The twelve were away for a few days only. They told Jesus and us of all they had done and taught. It made a deep impression on them.
While they were away doing this the news reached us of John the Baptiser being beheaded in his prison. It was a sobering thought of the possible dangers we faced. It was not so long after this that Jesus began to warn us he would be killed too. We travelled to Jerusalem with him but it took the very event of his death to convince us he spoke truly. Jesus was arrested at Jerusalem and killed most shamefully. We men not acquit ourselves well: we all fled the scene. Only the women stayed watching at a distance.
In fact it was really only after Jesus rose from the dead that we came to understand properly what he had been trying to get across to us by his parables, his healings, his casting out of demons. He has been appearing to us risen from the dead. At this moment, in the upper room, we are still frightened and uncertain even so. We are not sure what we should do.
Jesus was betrayed by one of the twelve: Peter says need to appoint someone in his place. We are about to cast lots between myself and Matthias. If the lot falls on me, I shall recall that mission the twelve were sent on soon after Jesus was rejected at Jerusalem.