The Calling of the Twelve Apostles,
Painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494),
Executed in 1481,
© Sistine Chapel, Vatican
Jesus chooses his twelve apostles
Luke 6: 12-19
Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.
He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.
Reflection on the Fresco Painting
Each time Jesus is about to take a big decision, such as choosing his twelve apostles, he prays. Today’s reading starts with the words ‘Jesus went out into the hills to pray’, showing how central prayer was to His mission. Luke could have easily omitted this phrase when writing this Gospel passage, but he did make a point of including this, thus also prompting us to bring our own decisions to prayer. By doing so, we put our own important decisions into a wider context of love for God and let Him work through us as we decide things.
The fresco painting we are looking at today is by Domenico Ghirlandaio, and part of the Cycle of the Life of Christ, in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. It shows Christ calling the twelve apostles. In the foreground we see Peter and Andrew, dressed in cloaks (yellow for Peter and green for Andrew). They are kneeling beside Christ, who blesses them. In the background to the left, we see them again being called by Jesus in their boats; the background on the right shows James and John also being called, whilst they are restoring their nets in their father’s (Zebedee) boat. Ghirlandaio was mainly known for his skill in painting landscapes, as visible in this fresco. The entire upper half of our work is an extensive landscape painting of the Sea of Galilee, hemmed in by hills.
The bystanders in our painting are looking on as Jesus calls his twelve apostles. But these bystanders are being called too, by name, like all of us, to be apostles in our own environments. Jesus chose twelve ordinary people and entrusted them with the task of spreading his values to the world. We ask to share in their spirit and fire…
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