Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. It was typical for a rabbi to have followers. These disciples, or students, might be referred to as a school. Jesus’ followers were not so much a school as a theological movement that moved beyond ideas. They taught and lived a new way of life in community and service to others. Jesus’ followers were a variety of people from a range of occupations. In that time and place, family, occupation, and local community relationships defined one’s being. For people to leave everything to follow a teacher was a radical, risky choice.
In his walking (Matthew 4:18, 9:9), during which Jesus saw and called his disciples, he beckoned, “Follow me” without saying where they would go or what they would become. Those called responded immediately, leaving behind their tools, trades, and even their families. Jesus called two pair of brothers, all four fishers. Among those called were enemies: Matthew was a tax collector in the service of the Roman government and Simon was a member of the Zealots, a revolutionary party actively opposed to Roman occupation. Jesus also Judas, who he knew would betray him. Jesus sent them to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of heaven and to provide healing to those in need. They were to ask no payment, receiving hospitality from those who offered and leaving behind those who did not.
The power of Jesus’ call was enough to prompt these 12 people to leave everything. They followed him with no promise of pay or provision. Some came with brothers; others came alone. Some were beckoned to use their skills, like fishing, in new ways; others took on new tasks, such as healing. Some were citizens in good standing; at least one, the tax collector, was despised. What united Jesus’ disciples? They did not have in common their past, their ethnicity, even their capacity to follow Jesus. They were drawn together by Jesus choosing and calling them.