I had one of those moments recently where something, which may or may not be obvious, occurred to me for the first time. You know that feeling, when your mouth hangs slightly ajar, you blink as if in slow motion and a look of comical confusion comes across your face? That sinking feeling that what you thought was the case might not be? When you realize for all the things you know, what you don’t know looms like Mt. Vesuvius, threatening to erupt all over you? Those staggering moments color the otherwise black and white rhythms of our routine lives, and have the power to jar us into startling clarity.
I’m participating in “The Jesus Journey” with my church. It’s totally amazing, and during the last session I had my struck-dumb moment. We were discussing Jesus and his disciples, how he gathered this group to follow him, learn from him and be his students (which is what the Greek word for disciple means). This apparently wasn’t unusual for first century Palestine, as there were many rabbis who had similar groups of followers. It also would not have been unusual for this group to be young. Like teenage young.
It was intellectual whiplash. Teenagers?!? A bunch of adolescent boys? These are the guys that Jesus hung around with, gave his authority to and promised would change the world? Teenage boys?!? This was his great plan? How did I miss this?
It seems Peter was the oldest, between 18-20, while John was the youngest, perhaps around 13. This fits the patterns of the time period – when males those ages would have been serving as apprentices in their chosen field, and marrying around Peter’s age (there is a brief reference to Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8; most scholars think that Peter was the only disciple who was married). And many of the stories about the disciples make sense if we see them as teenagers, as opposed to men in their 30’s or 40’s.
I once went to a very cool “live Last Supper” recreation of the last meal Jesus shared with this group. It was very powerful, very somber experience, full of men in their 60’s, dressed in robes, complete with fake beards. I’ve occasionally seen women up front, having their feet washed as part of a traditional Maundy Thursday service….but I’ve never seen adolescents represented with Jesus during this part of Jesus’ life. It never occurred to me that this might be the case. Why not?
Why have I always seen old guys as Jesus’ closest friends? Old guys get the front row seat to Jesus’ life in our images, our paintings, our art. And the public perception of church, at least from my view, is old guys up front, doing “Jesus’ work.” Where are the teenagers, and the women?
It’s mind-blowing to replace the images of twelve middle aged (or old) guys with beards with twelves teenagers. Clean faces, bright eyes; some still prepubescent softness and some beginning to have defined faces and lives. These were the ones who looked and Jesus and saw their future. And he was the one who looked at them, and saw the future. What would the church looked like if we followed this Jesus?