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by David Phelps

"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa

August, 2003

During a recent discussion, someone used the term “motley group.” One woman decided to look up the word “motley” in the dictionary. She found that it meant: “Having elements of great variety or incongruity; heterogeneous; having many colors; variegated; parti-colored.” She also found that the plural form, “motleys,” referred to “The parti-colored attire of a court jester. A heterogeneous, often incongruous mixture of elements.”

Jesus’ first disciples were certainly a “motley” bunch. They were from different professions, and had different levels of education. They were all Jews but may have also carried gentile blood as a result of the conversion of the local gentiles a century earlier. At least some of them were reasonably well-educated for their day, although they were all “laymen” and none of them had a rabbinical education.

At least four of the twelve apostles were fishermen by profession, who were called by Jesus to become “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19): Andrew, his brother Simon Peter, and James and John the sons of Zebedee (Matt. 4:18-22). Some of the other disciples, including Thomas, may have also been fishermen (John 21:1-3). Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector or publican (Matt. 10:3; Luke 5:27-32). Simon the Zealot was a member of the political organization the Zealots, and as such was a political activist (Luke 6:15). Judas Iscariot was probably a businessman. Of James the son of Alphaeus, Judas the son of James, Thaddaeus, Philip, and Bartholomew, things are less certain. Matthew and Judas Iscariot were probably men of means, while some of the others may have been quite poor. Simon Peter was married (Mark 1:29-31), and at least some of the others probably were as well, but we don’t know this for certain.

These twelve men represented a range of outlooks and temperaments as well: Simon Peter was boisterous and outspoken, with a fiery temper, while his brother, Andrew, was even-tempered and not given to public speaking. Judas Iscariot was materialistic, while Simon the Zealot was a political idealist, dedicated to the overthrow of the Roman government, and Matthew had been a willing servant of that same government. And yet, somehow, Jesus made these disparate elements combine and work together to form a group that was truly “greater than the sum of its parts.” He was able to meet the needs of each of these men, and help each find in himself the apostle he was meant to be. Tempestuous, mercurial Simon was surely surprised to receive the nickname “Peter, the rock” (Matt. 16:17-18). James and John must have laughed when Jesus called them “the sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Matthew must have been thrilled to hear the parable of “the Pharisee and the publican” (Luke 18:10-14). They were a colorful bunch as well: Red, fiery Peter; blue, despondent Thomas; avaricious Judas, forever identified with the color silver; and the others with their own distinctive colors.

A rainbow is composed of many colors; you know many of them: red, yellow, blue, and the like. But in between, there are a multitude of colors: magentas, red-oranges, golds, turquoises, and purples, all different and all beautiful. Each color is a part of the rainbow, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. There was a place for each of Jesus’ disciples, even for Judas Iscariot. They were indeed a motley, colorful group, and he made them work together like a rainbow on Earth. Jesus brought joy to a world in pain, more than any jester, and, by dying and being raised again, brought life to a world devoid of life. The disciples were his motleys, his colors. God has given you a color too. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom. 12:6a NIV). Let your color show forth into the world, and make it less drab, less dark, and more alive. You can be a part of God’s rainbow. Let someone see God in you.


“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Rom. 12:4-8 NIV.)

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Copyright © 2003 by David Phelps