A good question: Who is your favourite disciple?
One question, four answers
‘He may have been the only disciple not from Galilee – an odd man out!’
I am intrigued by several of the disciples, but the most controversial of them is Judas Iscariot; Judas the Betrayer; Judas the most maligned and despised of all Jesus’ followers.
We know very little about him. His surname, Iscariot, possibly places him as a man of Kerioth in Judah, so he may have been the only disciple not from Galilee – an odd man out! However, that might also be a red herring because some think that he was a known terrorist, fighting the Roman conquerors and attracted to Jesus by his links with the coming Messiah and the possibility of overthrowing them…
Barbara Bennett is a retired United Reformed Church minister, living in Exmouth. She is author of A Great Cloud of Witnesses; parts 1 and 3 are available from urcshop.co.uk
‘She didn’t avoid the shame of honouring a criminal’
My favourite disciple of Jesus right now is Salome. She is so mysterious, but Salome is listed in Mark’s Gospel as one of those who followed and served Jesus in Galilee, who came with him to Jerusalem, and stayed to witness his crucifixion. She was there going to the tomb early on Sunday morning, with ointments, to do the right thing in anointing his body for burial. This was the job of the closest female relatives to the deceased, and she didn’t shirk it, despite the shame of honouring a ‘criminal’ executed by the Romans, and despite having to go to a grave of a powerful man not part of the movement or the family.
I love that there is a record of her, found in Israel in 1982 in a long-forgotten cave chapel, where people once venerated her remains. When I filmed with Helen Bond our 2018 documentary Jesus’ Female Disciples: The new evidence for Channel Four, Helen and I stood under an arch in the dark interior and shone our torches on an ancient Greek inscription: ‘Saint Salome, have mercy on Zacharias, of Cyrillos. Amen’, and, above it, ‘Lady (Kuria), have mercy on [Zacharias], of the brother [Cyr]illos’. Back in the fifth century, people could appeal directly to ‘Holy Salome’ as Kuria: she was a saint…
Joan Taylor is Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College London, and co-author, with Helen Bond, of Women Remembered: Jesus’ female disciples, published this year
‘Jesus has a habit of focusing upon the lost sheep’
Pick a favourite! The task sounds easy enough, but I find that my choice – and the criteria behind it – will vary from one day to another.
Sometimes it’s all about finding a role model, someone whose faith and achievements set an inspiring example for me to emulate. There are the ‘big hitters’: figures like Stephen, the first Christian martyr; or Paul, whose ministry had such a profound influence on the shaping of the early Church; or his sometime companion Barnabas, whose gift was to recognise and draw forth the potential in people. But others, though mentioned more sparingly in the book of Acts, set an example that’s no less important: Ananias of Damascus, instrumental in the conversion of Saul/Paul; Dorcas of Joppa, whose devotion to the needy prompts an intervention to restore her to life; Lydia of Thyatira, who persuades Paul and his party to lodge at her home – and thus enables the Gospel to cross from one continent to another…
Dominic Grant is a URC minister serving two churches in Barnet, North London
‘She is fearless and a good steward of resources’
Our general impression of Martha usually comes from a cursory reading of chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. It includes an episode early in Jesus’ ministry, where Jesus urges Martha not to worry too much about household matters: ‘Martha, Martha…’
Although the meaning of this story has been debated among different scholars, the story has dominated the Taiwanese Church’s impression of Martha. Other descriptions of her in the Gospels are often forgotten. As a result, Martha, as they understand it, is a practical doer in a secondary position to her sister, Mary.
I like it that Martha’s interactions with Jesus provide added insights into his character. There’s no shame, there’s no condemnation in his defence of Mary. Martha is fearless, she is a good steward of her resources, she can easily accommodate Jesus and the disciples, and make the gathering something wonderful. A woman of independent thought and bold assertions, who served Jesus out of love for him. Her behaviour in Luke 10 has been compared to that of Abraham, Lot, and Joshua, whose hospitality pleased God…
Yu-Fen Chen is a mission partner of the URC, serving the Taiwanese Mission at Lumen
This is an extract from an article published in the September 2023 edition of Reform