If I had to put together 12 men who would follow me throughout my ministry, I would have chosen differently. I would have picked guys who had my back, who were respected, and most of all, who were on the same page.
Not only does Jesus pick untried, untested, and mostly uneducated blue color workers, he intentionally picks guys who would have been at each other’s throats.
Simon: the zealot
It makes sense that Simon, a zealot, decided to follow Jesus. The zealots were tired of the status quo, too. They wanted something dramatic and powerful to happen; they wanted to overthrow Rome. In their minds, a savior was coming to deliver Israel from Roman oppression. And they were prepared to help administer some good old-fashioned, Old Testament wrath.
Matthew: the tax gatherer
Jesus goes out of his way to sweep Matthew, the tax collector into the group (Matt. 9:9). He wanders by Matthew’s tax booth and recruits him—and Matthew follows.
Tax gatherers had a different view of Rome. To them, Roman rule was the way it was and they just needed to make the best of it. They saddled up to Rome and allowed the oppressors to use them to collect money from their people. Jews hated them because they extorted extra taxes for themselves, and because they were traitors. Zealots hated them even more.
One problem. Two solutions.
You could not find two more diametrically opposed view in how to deal with oppression. Tax gatherers looked at Rome as something outside of their control and decided it was better to go along and get along. If this was the way it had to be, they might as well use it to their advantage.
Zealots we constantly considering ways they could bring Rome down. They were whispering in ears and causing dissension and unrest in people around them. They wanted an uprising and they wanted it soon.
From the many people following him, Jesus intentionally picks these two ideological enemies for apostles (Luke 6:13–15). He deliberately sows potential conflict into those closest to him.
Jesus doesn’t care about resolving our squabbles
What’s funny is that this conflict is never brought up—ever. It’s not an issue. Simon’s life as a zealot was a defining characteristic; he was THE zealot. Matthew’s job may not have defined him, but his willingness to work for Rome by squeezing money out of his countrymen did.
Maybe Matthew and Simon would sit by the fire bickering deep into the night about which of them was wrong.
Did Jesus have an opinion about which of them was closer to being correct? Probably, but we don’t know. It never says. Because, when all was said and done, neither of them was right. The kingdom Jesus intended on bringing wasn’t of this world and would not be ushered in by the world’s typical political posturing.
At some point their proximity and closeness with Christ changed everything for them and gave them a new perspective, a new vision, and a new hope.
More important than our idealism
Prior to Jesus, I wonder how Matthew and Simon would justify their positions based on their religious views. Maybe Simon would look at all of the times that God used Hebrew champions to overthrow their oppressors. Maybe he’d appeal to Scripture as proof that a just war was right.
Maybe Matthew would fall back on the logic that at least it was a fellow Jew collecting money for the Romans and not an outsider who would take even more liberties with the finances of Jewish families. In Matthew’s mind, he was doing Israel a favor. As long as Rome collected taxes from the Jews, there was no reason for more violence.
Their relationship with Jesus changed everything. These two dogmatic ideologues were united by a common vision.
Maybe that’s something we need to think about more often. I want the people around me to agree. I want them to have the same values and ideals. It could be that the answer to many of the issues dividing the church won’t be fixed by more rancor and bickering. Perhaps they’ll change when we all start drawing closer to Christ and stop finding our identity in our ideals.
We want the people around us to think like we do.
Maybe that’s our problem.