The Twin, the Terrorist, and the Tax Collector
As I researched the times during which Jesus lived, I came to realize that potentially all of the twelve chosen disciples were marginalized in some way. Their minority status would be more obvious to the readers of the time.
Thomas, the Bible tells us, is also called Didymus, or the twin. Why did the writers add that detail? In John 11:16, we are told that the name of the disciples is Thomas in English. The name in Hebrew is Tauma, which literally means 'twin'. When the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the name was translated to 'Didumos', the Greek word for twin. I found this interesting because I am a mother of twins. After years of infertility, I felt I was doubly blessed. But this is not just an interesting adjective; it appears to be an insult. At the time, twins were considered unnatural, a burden and a curse. There were superstitions that one twin was mortal, born of humans, and the other was half supernatural, born by the intervention of evil spirits. Myths abound about a fully human twin and an evil twin. Twins were thought of as blemished and unclean. Often, one twin was abandoned to die. Being known as 'the twin' may have marginalized Thomas.
We know that Simon was called the Zealot (Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13). There was a sect of Jews called Zealots who fought against Rome and any foreign power. While the movement was not widespread until a few decades later, the Zealots of Jesus's day would have been considered extremists and feared as terrorists. Since Judas Iscariot seemed to believe Jesus would triumph over Rome, he may have also been a Zealot. Saying he was a Zealot is not just an interesting description, it is an insult. The establishment opposed Zealots and would have marginalized them.
Next, let us look at Philip, who is from Bethsaida in Galilee, but he has a Greek name, speaks Greek, and Greek worshippers felt comfortable approaching Philip (John 12:20-22).
Saying that Philip was a Greek sympathizer was not just a description; it was an accusation. The Greek Seleucids had taken over Israel for a time and attempted to extinguish their culture via outlawing Jewish practices and encouraging intermarriage and assimilation. Today, there are Canadians who may say something like, 'You're talking like an American'. This is not said as a description, but as an insult, a criticism, something that needs to be corrected. In the same way, Jews came to use the word Greek as a form of name-calling for anyone they did not like. A Greek sympathizer like Philip may have been marginalized.
When Philip invited his friend Nathanael to come and see Jesus, Nathanael replied 'Can anything good come from Nazareth?' (John 1:46). Nazareth was a poor, rural town filled with uneducated labourers. Saying that Jesus was from Nazareth was not just an interesting piece of true trivia; it was an insult. People from Nazareth were marginalized, and Jesus himself was marginalized.
We know that fishers were some of the lowest-ranked on the social scale, and four of the disciples were fishers. Are you seeing a pattern?
Tax Collectors were the lowest on the social scale. A Jew who collected taxes for the Roman occupation was considered a traitor and shunned by fellow Jews. In the new series The Chosen, the apostle Matthew is depicted by actor Paras Patel as being on the autism spectrum. This is based in part on the fact that most people would be so aware of the social stigma of being a Tax Collector, that they would avoid it. People on the spectrum are less aware of social signals. Matthew's gospel reveals extraordinary attention to detail, outlining the genealogy and exact numbers. This portrayal of Matthew has resonated with audiences.
The Chosen also depicts James the Less as 'Little James'. The actor, Jordan Walker Ross, has “severe scoliosis and minor cerebral palsy,” making him only 5 feet 4 inches tall and giving him a noticeable limp. The Chosen faces the fact that Little James is not cured of his condition.
If Jesus wanted to choose marginalized people, why did his group of twelve only include Jewish men? Jesus was using symbolism. Instead of the new realm being founded on the twelve tribes, it was to be founded on the twelve disciples. We know how humans rule, give men a greater inheritance or authority in God's name. In God's realm, it is different: health, ability, race, socio-economic status, or gender do not determine your inheritance or authority. The greatest in God's realm are those who serve (Luke 22:24-27).
Jesus did not come to call those who are righteous and respectable, but those who are marginalized and outcast, those who are humble and want to start a new life (Luke 5:32). In my novel, Forgotten Followers (from Broken to Bold), I portray James the Less as being counter to the mainstream and not requiring a therapy or cure. Jesus does not marginalize him but considers him normal. Jesus has provided an example for today's churches to include marginalized people in the church.
Jesus takes all of us who are impure and makes us pure, worthy of equal opportunities to serve God. We are all chosen. We are all one in Christ. Jesus commissioned all of us to serve, gave us authority and mandated us to go and make disciples. Once a person accepts Jesus's cleansing love, God makes them clean; we are no longer blemished, but able to serve.