When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Twelve Friends

So the King came out of the wilderness, with his face shining like a star. But he still wore his carpenter's clothes; and that kept most people from knowing who he was, for with most people clothes mean a great deal. Out of the wilderness he came into the valley of the river, and there was John the Baptist preaching. And the King walked slowly by along the road, and John looking over the heads of the crowd saw him. And he spoke to two men who stood beside him. "There he is," he said. "There is the King of Glory." And immediately the two men followed the King.

One of these men was named Andrew; the other was named John. We will call him John the Apostle, to distinguish him from John the Baptist; though after this we shall not hear much about John the Baptist,—except once. Andrew and the new John were fishermen from the Lake of Galilee. They lived in Capernaum or in Bethsaida: the towns were close together. They were partners in the fishing business. Each of them had a brother. Andrew's brother was named Peter, and John's brother was named James. They were all partners together, these four friends.

Each of the pairs of brothers had a good mother. The mother of Andrew and Peter was named Mary, and the mother of John and James was named Salome. The mothers were neighbors and good friends, like the sons. Both of them became friends of the King, and went about with him and with their sons, and cared for them. But Salome had been a friend of the King from his boyhood, for she was his aunt. Our Lord's mother was her sister. Thus James and John were our Lord's cousins. It is likely that Jesus had known all four of these young fishermen for many years, Capernaum being but a little way from Nazareth. Probably they were all about the same age,—about thirty; though Peter was older than John, for, as we shall see by and by, he could not run so fast.

Andrew and John were the first to join themselves to the King, hearing what John the Baptist said. They followed Jesus, and he heard their footsteps as they came hurrying after him, and turned about and said, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, with deep reverence, bowing down, "Master, where are you staying?" And he said, "Come and see." So they went on together, the King and the two fishermen, and spent that afternoon talking till the sun went down, asking questions and answering them.

The next day, Andrew found Peter and brought him to Jesus; and John found James. Then our Lord himself found Philip, who was already a friend of the four partners, and, like them, a fisherman. Philip had a friend named Bartholomew, also called Nathaniel, who lived in Cana, not far from Nazareth and not far from Capernaum. Philip told Bartholomew that they had found the Messiah, that his name was Jesus, and that he came from Nazareth. Bartholomew could not believe it. He knew Nazareth as we know any little homely town in our neighborhood. It seemed impossible that any good thing could come out of Nazareth. But Philip said, "Come and see." And Bartholomew came and saw and believed.

Thus already six friends had gathered about the King. Nobody knows what Bartholomew's trade was: he may have been a fisherman like the other five. That was the chief business of that neighborhood. There were many fish in the Lake of Galilee, and when they were caught and salted they were sent all over the empire, and people ate them at fine dinners, even in Rome. The fishermen did not get rich, but they were by no means poor. James and John and their father Zebedee had men working for them. It was a healthy and happy occupation for those who had strong arms and an independent spirit and patience and courage. They lived out of doors, with the wind blowing in their brown faces. They were accustomed to danger, for the lake was subject to sudden storms. In such a life, these six—if we may count the friend from Cana—had passed their days since they were boys; and all that time had been good friends, not only fishing together, but talking together,—talking about the sermons at the synagogue, and the true life, and the world in which they lived, and God above them and beside them. They were just the men whom the King wanted, manly and open-minded.

christ and the fishermen


By and by,—though this was after some months,—the King invited six others. One was named James, and was called "the little;" either to distinguish him from our Lord's cousin, or because he was a short man. Another was Thomas, a very matter-of-fact person, with a mind of his own, and rather inclined to look on the dark side. Two were named Judas, one of them being also called Iscariot. That means a man from Kerioth, a town of Judea, a long way from Capernaum. Judas Iscariot was a stranger to the others; but they came to know him only too well. Another friend was Simon, who belonged to a wild secret society called Zealots, who were all the time laying plots against the Romans. Another friend was Matthew.

In the lists of the twelve friends, or, as they are called, the twelve apostles, the name of Judas Iscariot always comes last. But I have here put Matthew at the end, partly because it is likely that he was the last to be called, and partly because there is a story connected with his call. A great road ran through Capernaum. Sometimes it was called the Way of the Sea, and sometimes the Great West Road. It connected the lands of the east with the lands of the west, extending from beyond Damascus to the coast of the Mediterranean. Caravans, like trains of cars, were all the time going back and forth over it. The Romans had paved it, and kept it in good order, and for this service they collected toll. There was a toll-gate at Capernaum, and one of the men who sat at the gate was Matthew. Many people disliked Matthew very much, because he worked for the Romans, and they hated the Romans. They disliked him all the more because he was a Jew. It seemed to them a shameful thing that one of their own people should be in the employ of the foreign conquerors. So Matthew was one of the most unpopular persons in town. Few respectable persons would have anything to do with him. He had money and a large house, but his only associates were those who were in his own business. He had even been turned out of the church.

It is much to Matthew's credit that in spite of all this he was a good man. The six fishermen, who saw Matthew at the toll-gate every day, knew that; and they knew also that the King did not care anything for popularity. Wherever the King found a good man, he loved him. It must have been pretty hard for Simon to love Matthew, whom all his secret-society friends hated so. But the toll-gate was near the place where Jesus was accustomed day by day to speak to the people. And Matthew sat there, hearing every word he said. Every sentence went into Matthew's heart and stayed there. And one day, after the sermon, the King passed by the gate along the Way of the Sea, and as he went he held up his hand to Matthew and said, "Follow me." And Matthew stood straight up, and went out and followed him. That night he gave a great dinner at his house, and had all his friends there, a strange company, and the King sat at the table. For Matthew felt just as Andrew and John and Philip did; having come himself to know Christ, he wanted his friends to know him.

Thus there were twelve friends of the King, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And they were called Apostles, which mean, Men who are Sent; because our Lord was teaching them so that he might send them to teach others.