Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority.” Matthew 10:1
Why are there twelve apostles? Think of it. Why aren’t there 4 or 7? Numbers in ancient times and in the Mid-East to this day have significance. In the Bible numbers are not in and of themselves sacred, but they do have symbolism. The number 4, for example, represented cosmic totality. In Ezekiel four living creatures appear. Ezekiel reads, “As I looked, a stormwind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness, from the midst of which the midst of the fire something gleamed like electrum. Within it were figures resembling four living creatures…” (Ezekiel 1:4-5). The four living creatures have wings, and when the wings flap, they make a noise that sounds to Ezekiel like the voice of God. These four creatures reappear in the Book of Revelation. In St. John’s vision, he sees the throne of God. Revelation reads, “In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and back” (Revelation 4:6). The four living creatures symbolize the totality of God’s presence. All creation speaks the glory of God. God is able to see everything and is reflected in everything. So, why aren’t there 4 apostles?
Why about 7? Seven represented completion and by extension symbolized perfection. It is no surprise that God rests on the seventh day because His creation work is complete, shall we say perfected. Genesis reads, “Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventy day from all the work he had undertaken” (Genesis 2:2). As a matter of fact, there are too many examples to list in so short a time, but I want to add one more point. If 7 symbolizes perfection, then subtract 1 and you get 6. Six was a sign of imperfection. Thus, when the Book of Revelation wants to identify the beast, it is 666, a most disordered imperfection. So, why aren’t there 7 apostles?
In fact there aren’t 4 or 7 apostles but 12, because the number 12 was symbolic first and foremost because it identified the 12 tribes of Israel. In other words, 12 identified the People of God, the covenanted people that God had made His own. Twelve tribes meant that the People of God were intact. When in the Book of Numbers Moses and Aaron take a census of this people, it was the prince of each tribe that assists in the numbering and identification of the people. Numbers reads, “It was these who were registered, each according to his ancestral house, in the census taken by Moses and Aaron and the twelve princes of Israel” (Number 1:44). Jesus selects 12 apostles because they are the new princes who will rule over the new People of God in God’s Kingdom. Jesus Himself will say to these twelve apostles, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Lest there be any doubt, Jesus has come to establish a New People. That People is His Body, the Church, and the very number 12 points to His intention.
For this reason, Jesus summons His 12 new princes and gives them authority. We read in the Gospel of today, “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Matthew 10:1ff.). They are the extension of the shepherd in his work of shepherding. They are workers in the vineyard at harvest time. Beginning with Peter, always the first named in any listing of the 12, they form a body, who receive their instructions and carry on the work of the Master.
The Church is the new People of God, the new Israel. She is built on the foundation of the Apostles, because they are the essential building blocks for the Church. The Book of Revelation leaves no doubt whatsoever that the new City of God is the Church because its foundation is composed of twelve stones. That passage reads, “The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). Through the apostles we belong, and this is why we can call the Church apostolic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about it. “The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin” (CCC, #864). St. Paul spoke of it this way. “You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Ephesians 2:20).