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Papal address 'Apostles as Envoys of Christ'

"Witnesses of a Person"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience, which he dedicated to the theme "The Apostles, Witnesses and Envoys of Christ."

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Letter to the Ephesians presents the Church as a structure "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (2:20). In [the Book of] Revelation, the role of the apostles, and more specifically of the Twelve, is clarified with the eschatological perspective of the heavenly Jerusalem, presented as a city whose wall has "twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (21:14). The Gospels coincide in narrating that the call of the apostles marked the first steps of Jesus' ministry, after the baptism received by the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.

According to Mark's (1:16-20) and Matthew's (4:18-22) accounts, the Lake of Galilee is the scene of the call of the first apostles. Jesus had just begun to preach the Kingdom of God, when his gaze turned to two pairs of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. They were fishermen, dedicated to their daily work. They lowered their nets and repaired them. However, another catch was awaiting them. Jesus calls them with determination and they follow him with promptness: Henceforth they will be "fishers of men" (cf. Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19).

Although he follows the same tradition, Luke gives a more elaborate account (5:1-11). He shows the journey of faith of the first disciples, specifying that the invitation to follow comes to them after having heard Jesus' first sermon, and after having experienced his first miraculous signs. In particular, the miraculous catch constitutes the immediate context and offers the symbol of the mission of fishers of men that was entrusted to them. The destiny of these "called" henceforth will be profoundly linked to Jesus'. An apostle is someone who is sent, but even before that, he is an "expert" on Jesus.

This aspect is emphasized by the Evangelist John from Jesus' first meeting with the future apostles. Here the scene is different. The meeting takes place on the banks of the Jordan. The presence of the future disciples, who like Jesus came from Galilee to live the experience of the baptism administered by John, illuminates their spiritual world. They were men awaiting the Kingdom of God, desirous of knowing the Messiah, whose coming was announced as something imminent.

It was enough that John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:36) for them to want a personal meeting with the Teacher. Jesus' conversation with his two first future apostles is very expressive. To the question: "What do you seek?" they replied with another question: "'Rabbi' -- which means Teacher -- 'where are you staying?'" Jesus' response is an invitation: "Come and see" (cf. John 1:38-39). Come so that you can see.

Thus, the apostles' adventure began as a gathering of persons who open to one another reciprocally. A direct knowledge of the Teacher began for the disciples. They saw where he lived and began to know him. They would not have to be heralds of an idea, but witnesses of a person. Before being sent to evangelize, they would have to "be" with Jesus (cf. Mark 3:14), establishing a personal relationship with him. With this foundation, evangelization is no more than a proclamation of what has been experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ (cf. 1 John 13).

To whom will the apostles be sent? In the Gospel, Jesus seems to restrict their mission to Israel: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). At the same time, he seems to circumscribe the mission entrusted to the Twelve: "Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, 'Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'" (Matthew 10:5). A certain criticism of rationalist inspiration saw in these expressions the lack of a universal consciousness of the Nazarene.

In fact, they must be understood in the light of their special relationship with Israel, community of the Covenant, in continuity with the history of salvation. According to the messianic expectation, the divine promises, made immediately to Israel, would reach their fulfillment when God himself, through his Chosen One, would gather his people as a shepherd does his flock: "I will save my sheep so that they may no longer be despoiled. I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David. And my servant David shall be prince among them" ([cf.] Ezekiel 34:22-24).

Jesus is the eschatological shepherd, who gathers the lost sheep of the house of ...

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