The Community of Jesus





The love of Jesus for people is repeatedly illustrated in scripture, but he had a special bond with the small group of brothers who he trained and sent out into the world to lay the foundation for the Christian church.

Besieged by huge crowds who had heard of His miraculous works, He seldom asked questions before healing the sick, the blind, the deaf, along with lepers and paralytics.

Jairus came, asking for help for his daughter, near death. She was healed. The woman with the hemorrhage for years simply touched his robe and the power flowed out of Him and stanched the flow.

The centurion asked for aid for his ailing servant and it was done. Jesus gave sight to a blind man and in what would seem to be mystifying told him not to tell anyone of the miracle, as if a person with new sight could keep it a secret from family and friends.

Singly and in large groups they came, sometimes the curious just to see the show and hear power-preaching and others with the plaintive, "Jesus, Master, help me, help mine." He gave them not only love and the message of salvation but the very healing they needed to bring relief and hope to themselves or loved ones.

Jesus' healing love washed over the poor, the halt, the lame. Sometimes they had faith in Him and found cures. Others he healed without any indication they believed but it seems they would have had to after they marveled at the sound bodies where serious defects prevailed before.

Jesus' love came from the Father and pointed to repentance, faith, baptism and redemption--eternity with Him and other believers.

But as much as Jesus loved all people, He had a special fondness and love for his immediate disciples--a unique relationship, tempered and molded by living together, united as they banged up against the hard doors of life.

These close followers were his cronies. They had special ties that people develop over years of getting to know each other almost as well as they know themselves, although they had only three years together before they dispersed to spread the Gospel.

What were some of the special signs of love that Jesus had for his intimates? He wanted them around. He was jealous of their companionship. They shared in His sorrows and in His achievements.

Jesus and His followers were invited to the wedding feast at Cana. Where He went, they went. He was proud of them, he enjoyed their stories, the rundown on their day, the good and the bad.

He wanted, even needed them, just as we covet the companionship and support of those we love. He even relished the blundering, gruff, rambunctious style and peasant personality of the "Big Fisherman," the man called Peter who was to play such a great role as Jesus' top-kick. Peter, maybe a top sergeant then, was to become the five-star general of the Jesus army, the church.

We don't know specifically whether Jesus knew beforehand that He would perform his first public miracle at Cana. That was a miracle that invoked wonder, awe and glory--and the first time His power shined publicly. Certainly it must have caused quite a stir among his compatriots. They must have been glad they were in His throng.

But Christ's closest friends were also there when He visited his hometown of Nazareth. When He read from the Torah in the synagogue and revealed He was the Messiah, the villagers who should have admired and been stunned with awe, disparaged Him instead: "Isn't this the son of Mary and Joseph and don't his sisters and brothers live here?" Their eyes were blind to the reality of the King of heaven and earth in their presence.

At Cana, power and amazement. At Nazareth, a putdown, perhaps embarrassment and certainly disappointment: "Local boy is a false prophet."

Yet Jesus chose to have His best friends there when he bombed in his hometown. His mother Mary must have shed some tears that could be regarded as the precursor of those at the cross where her son hung mortally wounded in body and heart. When dying, how He must have wished that His friends could be there to give Him at least scant comfort, but virtually all had fled in terror, as did Peter who denied Him three times as Jesus had prophesied.

Even in discouraging times, He saw something wonderful in His people. He gave deeply and unstintingly. He loved them exactly as they were.

On the other hand, Jesus expected a lot from his followers: deprivation, sacrifice to the point that virtually all died loyal to their faith.

Luke Nine tells us that he called the twelve together and gave them power ordinary men had not had up to that point. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. So they went from village to village, scripture says, "proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere."

Like a responsible leader, or even a conscientious father, Jesus checked up on their accomplishments. Luke Nine, Verse Ten says, "On their return, the apostles gave Him an account of all they did."

The cohesiveness of this little band could only have been forged by the warm, loving concern Jesus lavished on His fortunate cohort. They trekked long distances on foot through the dusty roads of Palestine to towns like Samaria, Jerusalem and Jericho or sailed in fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee. All the while, Jesus was imparting His gifts of wisdom and knowledge and love and all that He later confirmed through the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes they would withdraw from the thousands of people and the hectic, tiresome grind it must have been at times in the enervating hot climate of the Middle East.

Although busy in ministry, they would spend some quiet time together. During one respite scripture informs us, Jesus "took them with Him and withdrew to a town called Bethsaida where they could be by themselves."

During these sessions, there must have been some revelry and joyous occasions. They worked, too, on learning, Jesus teaching and the apostles going through an educational process. He was laying the foundation for a church that would exist for thousands of years.

Sometimes they worked on petitions to the Father, with prayer meetings. It was an important element of their relationships. At times, Jesus was the prayer leader. In a verse of Luke we encounter the phrase: "One day, He was praying alone in the midst of His disciples." Through personal example, Jesus was stressing the power and necessity of prayer.

In John 17, He interceded with the Father for His closest followers, joining his prayer with theirs, another indication of the unity of His love for the apostles and of their love for Him and the Father.

Jesus prayed for those the Father had given Him. And in His great pledge that has great significance for Gentiles, He adds:

"I pray not only for these
"But for those also
"Who through their words
"Will believe in Me.
"May they all be one.
"Father, may they be one in us,
"As You are in Me
"And I am in You."

Jesus proved to be the "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the lasting link of love that binds us--just as it did his colleagues then--to the Father.

The love Jesus had for his little community was unlimited, as we would expect in our God, although Jesus, being human also, could also love as a man. A beautiful example comes in John 13, before the Passover festival. Jesus wraps a towel around His waist and washes His apostles feet, a very lowly task for a Jew, much less the Messiah, the "I AM" of the Old Testament.

Peter puts him off; Jesus insists, Peter goes the extra mile: "Lord, not only my feet but my hands and my head." And Jesus urges upon His friends, and upon us, that same sort of humility and service and promises, "happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly."

He emphasizes an important lesson: that dramatic, flamboyant, media-blitz actions don't find favor with Him. It's the behind-the-scenes service to others that counts. As John says, "He showed how perfect His love was for those who were His in the world."

And in a message of all-consuming love, later fulfilled in the cross, Jesus refers to "My little chidren," saying:

"I give you a new commandment:
"Love one another;
"Just as I have loved you,
"You must also love one another.
"By this love you have for one another
"Everyone will know
"That you are my disciples."

The dimensions of Jesus' love for His inner circle were amply demonstrated at the final dinner before he perished on the cross.

As the liturgical language for the Eucharistic feast we indulge in today says, "He always loved those who were His own, and before He died He showed the depth of His love."

He would soon depart from his followers physically in a horrible, degrading death that would test their faith. And so He left them a part of Himself. It was as intimate, yet as mysterious, a gift of any heritage that the God-man Jesus could bestow: His "body" and His "blood."

We can't really comprehend it. Like other issues concerning God, the bottom line is a matter of faith, not necessarily understanding in human terms for God's ways "are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts," as the prophet Isaiah puts it in Chapter 55.

At that last supper, Jesus' prayer was put simply but beautifully over two very popular commodities, bread and wine. His sacred words described them in that 2,000-year-old liturgical event as His body and the cup of salvation, His blood, and ordained this commemorative event to be continued down through the ages.

Is there any indication that this largely illiterate and disparate band of occasionally quarrelsome disciples knew what Jesus was about at the time? It's doubtful. To them it must have been another of those "hard sayings" He expounded at times.

It very well could have been regarded as a standard Passover meal with an extra flourish to make them scratch their heads. Their perplexing leader often acted in ways beyond their comprehension.

It wasn't until Jesus breathed forth the Holy Spirit upon them that they better understood what had taken place. Luke 24:45 explains: "He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures."

Thanks to the missionary outreach for which Jesus had trained them, Christianity exploded in the Jewish community and across the pagan world. Word spread of the magnificence and significance of the Messiah, who had graced Palestine and the spiritual citadel of Jerusalem, the cradle of the Jewish and Christian faiths. (Islam had not yet appeared).

The consecration of the bread and wine was another act of perfect love by Jesus, just as His death on the cross proclaimed his love for followers and the whole fabric of mankind.

The partaking of the bread and wine in common in the context of His death and resurrection became a hallmark for His community. To this day, we share in the grace of His sacrament of love and commemoration, just as His chosen few did that night before he was insulted, rejected, tortured and slain as an atonement for the sins of mankind.

As another mark of loyalty to His own, Jesus gave priority to reuniting with them after His resurrection. He could have appeared at Herod's palace or at the residence of political leaders or even the temple to disprove the Sanhedrin responsible for his death and say, "This proves I AM God."

But no, He chooses to once again greet his warmest friends, such as the plucky women who remained with Him at the cross as He suffered. During those final days before His resurrection, he decided to have a rural breakfast of fresh fish with two of his companions. He met, too, at the Upper Room with fearful disciples, making sure that "Doubting Thomas" was there to check out His wounds.

It seems that He wanted to show clearly the durability and divine character of his mission. Like friends and family members who deeply love each other, in final hours before His ascension to the Father, He not only bid goodbye but pledged to return in the final days of our world. In the interim, He would not forget them and leave them "as orphans."

The love of Jesus: constant; everlasting, blanketing His band of believers then and Christians today.
As Paul observes in 1 Corinthians 13, showing us "the most excellent way": "Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

And he concludes the chapter by declaring, "Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."