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Lectio Divina: “These are the names”

Lectio Divina: “These are the names”

Gospel reading: Matthew 10.1-7

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”


There is some doubt over whether the author of Matthew’s Gospel was the same man as Matthew the tax collector (see Matthew 9.9-13) and disciple, but let’s assume it was the case. Certainly he likes lists. His Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus, and here he includes himself among a list of the twelve apostles. He seems to be taking the opportunity to say to his readers ‘Look! I’m not just a random writer or the subject of a story. I’m here in the list of disciples. I’m bona fide and worth reading.’

Names are important. God says “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43.1). Our names are written in the book of the righteous (see Revelation 3.4-5).

So Matthew’s name stands alongside the big names – Peter, James and John; with the names that have since been largely forgotten, like Bartholomew and Thaddaeus; and with the name of Judas the Betrayer.

A few years ago I was struck by “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, Richard Bauckham’s book on names in the Bible: the significance of the naming of some people and not others; and the formulation of the names. In this list, we see that Matthew adds a qualifier to the common names: the first Simon is known by his other name, Peter, and the second by his membership of the Cananaeans;* Andrew, James, John and James are defined by their (more important) relations. Others with less common names didn’t need such surnames. Then just to be sure, Matthew carefully identifies himself by his job; and Judas by his action.

What would I like to be called, when my name is written in the list of the faithful? Many saints are known by their place of birth, so I could follow the example of Clare of Assisi. ‘Clare of Abingdon’ has a nice ring to it. But comparing myself to St Clare would be above my station! How about ‘Clare the former economic consultant’? That sounds a bit prosaic to my ears. Nor would I want to be known in relation to someone, whether they are more or less important. I want to be treated as my own person. And nor as ‘the one who betrayed’, however true that might be on a daily basis.

I like ‘Clare the one who held on until she received a blessing’, referencing Jacob wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok (Genesis 32.22-32). But on reflection, it is a name that starts with me and my own power, and tests God. ‘Clare the beloved of God’ starts with God and reflects a deep truth. I shall stick with that.

* Note that Cananaean does not mean an inhabitant of Canaan or Cana, as I first thought! According to Merriam-Webster online, it is “a member of a Jewish sect that bitterly opposed the Roman domination of ancient Palestine” and according to Strong’s Concordance is from the Aramaic for ‘Zealot’.


Since April 2020, I have been jointly hosting a shared Lectio Divina group on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings. These are my reflections only, during the prayer session and as I wrote them up. Please see my separate commentary and leaflet for more information about shared Lectio.