Mark 3, 13-19
The Call of the Apostles
“He went up into the hills and called to him those whom he desired. And they came to him. (verse 13)
And he appointed twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (verse 14)
Parallel in Luke 6,12-13b: “In those days he went out into the hills to pray, and at night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles.”
“They were: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is ‘sons of thunder’; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (verses 16-19).
No one can seriously doubt the symbolism of the number twelve. Like elsewhere in Scipture it points to the twelve tribes of Israel, and therefore to the whole Jewish people . Compare the symbolism of the 12 pillars of the altar (Exodus 24,4), the 12 precious stones on the Highpriest's breast piece inscribed with the names of the tribes (Exodus 28,15-21), the 12 gates of the new temple (Ezekiel 48,30-34; see Revelation 21,12), and so on.
The Early Church understood the power of this symbolism. They elected a new member to replace Judas, so that the number be complete (Acts 1,15-26).
The question is: May the omission of women be interpreted as a deliberate decision by Jesus to exclude women from the priesthood for all times?
The answer is: No! For the following reasons:
- Jesus normally left such decisions to the later Church.
- The simple explanation for his omission of women is social male dominance in Jesus' time which was a fact Jesus had to live with.
- The revolutionary new priesthood established by Jesus would eventually require the full integration of women into the ordained ministry.
- Women were present at the Last Supper when Jesus spoke the words: “Do this in commemoration of me!”. ‘Meals of the Community’, by Suzanne Tunc, from Des Femmes aussi Suivant Jésus, Paris 1998, pp 69-77.
Jesus chose the twelve with great care. He spent the whole night in prayer before finalising his choice. We are told that he chose “those he himself wanted” (Mark 3,13). Surely, the exclusion of women was also carefully considered by Christ.
- Jesus' careful preparation concerned the right choice of the individuals selected, as the text itself shows by naming them.
- Nowhere is it indicated that women were excluded by Jesus for special theological or liturgical reasons. The omission of women is simply a non-fact.
- Choosing men was the normal, socially understood, thing to do, since men held all leadership positions. Jesus Christ could not bring about all changes at once!
“Jesus Christ did not call any woman to become part of the twelve. If he acted in this way, it was not in order to conform to the customs of his time, for his attitude towards women was quite different from that of his milieu, and he deliberately and courageously broke with it.” (Inter Insigniores, no 9.
The facts show differently. Jesus did adapt and had to adapt to the Jewish social customs of male dominance.
Read also: “The twelve apostles were men - -” by Ida Raming, Orientierung 56 (1992) pp. 143-146.
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