Reflection - April 21, 2019

“So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter 
and arrived at the tomb first; 
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
...the other disciple also went in, 
the one who had arrived at the tomb first, 
and he saw and believed.”

Jesus Christ is alive! Alleluia! On March 25, Pope Francis promulgated an Apostolic Exhortation, another title for a letter, in response to the process and meeting of the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. Addressing young people (specifically, those from 16 to 29) and the circumstances of their lives, globally, the Pope seeks to offer a word of hope to young people who face war, violence, migration, abuse, unemployment, the challenges of digital technology, isolation, exclusion, debt, and many other difficult realities, sometimes from within the Church. He also challenges us to recognize the needs and, as importantly, the gifts and contributions of young people for the Faith and the Church. Tellingly, the Latin title for this letter is Christus Vivit, or Christ is Alive. 


I have read the 68 page letter, most of it more than once. The Pope reflects on Jesus’s own youth, on Mary in her youth, and on a number of young saints. It got me thinking about the Apostles. I don’t know why I had never reflected on this before, but I started to be curious about how old the Apostles were when they followed Jesus and, as we celebrate his resurrection, at the time of this history changing event. We have all seen movies where the Apostles are portrayed as older than Jesus, with the exception of John, the beloved disciple and author of today’s gospel. I think I have uncritically accepted these portrayals without much thought, but culturally, they don’t make much sense. 

As a rabbi who began his public ministry at the appropriate age, 30, for a rabbi to do so and who refers to his Apostles as “little ones,” it is not absolute, but it is most likely, that they were all younger than Jesus. Peter was likely the oldest since he is the only one we hear was ever married. Almost all Jewish men in Jesus’s time were married by the time they were 20 and there is a case to be made that if the other Apostles were not married that they may have all been younger than 20. Matthew is the only other Apostle that we know of that had his own career as a tax collector, not working for his family. In addition, there is a story from the gospels where Jesus has Peter go fishing to retrieve money from a fish to pay the temple tax. He retrieves the prescribed amount to pay for himself and Jesus, which makes sense if the other Apostles were under 20 because that is the age at which the temple tax was due. On the younger end, formal education ended at 15 years old for most Jewish boys unless they were accepted as disciples by a rabbi, a great opportunity and high honor. It helps us understand why many of the Apostles called by Jesus were so excited to leave everything and follow him. It is likely that most of the Apostles, then, were between 15 and 20 when called by Jesus and were 18 to 23 at his resurrection. Peter would have been older, but still likely younger than Jesus. It is also why, perhaps, an 18 year old John ran faster than a 28 year old Peter to the empty tomb. 

As we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection, the new life we are all given, we also need new vision. It doesn’t take any particular skill, knowledge, ability, or effort, for our church to grow old. Like in my life, that happens naturally. We need those things, however, to accompany, receive, encourage, and call young people to follow Jesus. He began with, invested in, and entrusted young people with his mission. We must continue to do the same. They bring new life to our church where Christ is alive! Alleluia!