We would want people who were proud to call us a friend. Jesus chose Peter, the man who denied he knew Jesus when it most counted.
We would want people who believed in us. Jesus chose Thomas, the man who refused to believe he could be alive again.
We would want people who would put themselves out for us when we asked them. Jesus chose several friends, none of whom could stay awake the night before his death.
We would want people to put in a good word for us when we needed it. Jesus chose twelve friends, none of whom came forward as character witnesses after his arrest.
We would want people to see the world the way we do. Jesus chose a complement of men who couldn’t make sense of what he was saying a lot of the time.
It is as if his elite forces for the Kingdom of God were Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones – people who cry ‘don’t panic’ in the same breath as they run for cover. If our goal was to change the course of history decisively we would instinctively search for people with cash, connections and charisma. Jesus chose men from Galilee, a region looked down on by cosmopolitan Jerusalem as backward and provincial.
Jesus’ friends were good people, but they were also insignificant and would have slipped anonymously into the shadows of history but for him. One of the largest and most needless challenges facing young people growing up today is the promotion of a culture in which only certain people are deemed worthy of the spotlight. Yet God chooses ordinary people from unexceptional places to do his work. Galilee and Nazareth may sound like mysterious and romantic places to live but that is only because we don’t live there. Other people did and they had no sense that they lived in a magical place. We never think our home town possesses mysterious power. Nazareth and Galilee are no different to Doncaster and Northampton. On hearing of Jesus, Nathaniel scornfully remarked: ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ It’s just like saying: can anything good come out of Croydon? Actually yes – it can and it does. We snigger, just like Nathaniel, because we know all the jokes about Croydon, just as he would have known all the one-liners about Nazareth.
Peter, Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip and the rest set a trend in the calling of Christians: the labour of ordinary people in ordinary places witnessing to the transforming love of God. The saying goes that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. If this is true, then we have something to be joyful about, because we have been chosen as friends of God himself.