The Messiah for Pariahs: Jesus’ Strange Followers

The-WomanJesus chooses the strangest set of followers. Jesus defines himself as one who has come to rescue the social outcasts, the pariahs. He demonstrates it in a number of specific ways, but perhaps the most obvious is his choice of disciples. Jesus picks as his followers a group of social misfits and outcasts to demonstrate clearly his love for the marginalized.

Jesus does it all backwards. Most respected rabbi’s would have chosen from a pool of desirous candidates the best and brightest young boys to follow them. Jesus does not do that, however. Instead he personally goes about the city hand-picking from a group of grown men who are not qualified to study under him, or under any rabbi for that matter. Jesus chooses fishermen and tax collectors. He chooses the uneducated and the betrayer. Jesus’ followers are not only not typical, they are not desirable. But they are the ones Jesus personally chooses to follow Him. He hand-picks them. That’s a significant point to consider.

Jesus does not draw names out of  hat, he does not randomly select His twelve closest disciples. No, he intentionally seeks them out and calls them by name. He wants these social outcasts to follow Him around and represent Him to the public. So we read, for example, of Jesus calling four fishermen to follow Him. The text says:

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

He personally chooses these men, it is not an arbitrary decision. Jesus wants specifically four fishermen among his closest friends and followers. In this He is making a profound statement about himself, about his role, and about those who would follow Him. He declares that He has come specifically for those who are “sick,” not for those who think they have no need of His help (Luke 5:31-32). He chooses followers that will help prove this point.

Each of the twelve followers points to a Jesus who cares for the social outcast. Luke 6 record who they are, the author writes:

And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:13-16)

We only get the accounts of Jesus’ calling seven of the twelve, and some we know very little about. Nonetheless we can easily recognize that none of them were from among the Jewish religious leaders – the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, priests, or rabbis. Among them were the fishermen, among the lowest of the social classes. There was also a tax collector (Matthew), who had partnered with the invading enemy of Rome to financially oppress his own people with unfair taxation. There was also a religious revolutionary, Simon the Zealot. These were not desirable men to associate with, let along invite to become your disciples. In fact it must have been in part because of his disciples that the religious leaders so adamantly rejected Jesus as a teacher. He walked among the pariahs of the day.

We can see too throughout the New Testament that the disciples don’t do much to commend themselves to us. They were often selfish, self-centered, dense, ungrateful, and quick to doubt. The only follower who had anything to boast in was Paul, who was not among the original twelve. And Paul says of himself:

 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:8-11)

It is because he was “least among the apostles” and because he knew himself to be the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) that Paul could say to the Corinthians:

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

This was Jesus’ agenda in selecting followers. He wants to communicate the abundance of His grace and the breadth of His love.

Again we see that Jesus is no “respecter of persons.” He doesn’t play favoritism, and He has, in particular, a soft heart for those who are marginalized and social pariahs. One wonders if our churches, ministries, and seminaries reflect this hear of Jesus. I often wonder if my heart reflects His heart in this way. It’s a worthwhile question to continue to think about.

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