(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
When Jesus sees the crowds, His heart is moved with pity “because they were troubled and abandoned.” The Greek word for “abandoned” literally means “thrown down,” and it is used only two other times in the Gospel of Matthew: when the crowds lay down the sick at the feet of Jesus to be cured (Mt 15:30) and when Judas throws down into the Temple the silver pieces he was paid to betray Jesus (Mt 27:5). In other words, to be “abandoned” means to be overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness — serious predicaments that only Jesus Christ can transform.
We might wonder, though, why the crowds felt abandoned. After all, was Jesus not with them? Their situation helps us to understand how easy it is to overlook the presence of Jesus in our midst — to get wrapped up in ourselves and absorbed in petty concerns. Jesus rescues the crowds from their helplessness and hopelessness by giving them something that will keep them from forgetting just how present He always is in their midst. Christ blesses them with a gift that assures God’s people that He remains with them in every circumstance: He gives them the Twelve Apostles.
At first, this seems not so much a gift as the booby prize: the crowds want Jesus, but they get Peter, James, John and all the rest (including Judas). Why does Jesus send these twelve men instead of miraculously going Himself to every hurting heart? The answer is that, as the people encounter the Apostles in their ministry, they encounter the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Jesus sends His people the Twelve Apostles because in them, we see ourselves. In their impulsiveness, lack of comprehension, simplicity, failings and even betrayal, we are reflected as if in a mirror. Their struggles are ours, their faith is ours, their love for the Lord is ours.
But we also experience the saving power of Jesus in the Apostles. Through the ordained instrumentality of these men (and their successors, the bishops), Jesus Himself does go personally to every hurting human heart to heal, console and strengthen it. Every time we recite the Creed, we say, “We believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.” The Apostles are at the heart of our Faith, the heart of our belief, the heart of the Church. The Church is apostolic because she continues to be taught, sanctified and guided by the Apostles through their successors.
The Apostles, though, do more than offer words. People demand proof, and Jesus grasps this truth when He commands His Apostles to support their preaching with saving actions. What the Apostles do — “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” — is nothing other than what Jesus Himself does. The Apostolic mission is not something separate from or different than Christ’s own mission; they coincide exactly, and indeed the Apostles can do nothing except through the power and grace of Christ at work in them. This is as true today as it was in Jesus’ own day. The Church, rooted upon the Apostles, fulfills today, in the circumstances of modern life, the same task of teaching, sanctifying and governing that the Lord handed on to His chosen Twelve.
How does Christ care for us today, in the Year of Our Lord 2002? He does so through the apostolic nature of His Church. As the Lord came to change and transform the lives of those who heard and believed in Him, so through the Apostles and their successors, Christ accomplishes the same transformation and renewal of life. Through our own obedient response to the teaching, sacramental care and pastoral guidance of our shepherds, the bishops, each of us can come to know and experience the continuation and perpetuation of the Good Shepherd’s constant care and love, and thus find hope in the apostolic proclamation: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”