XXXVII. The lists of the Apostles in the four Gospels varies a bit in name, usually explained by Hebrew and Greek versions or –as with Peter – a new title given by Jesus. Rather than profiling each of the Twelve, Pope Benedict focuses on their diverse backgrounds.
Two of the Twelve – Simon and Judas – are from the “Zealot” party – those who are “zealous” for the Torah like Phinehas (Numbers 25), Elijah (I Kings 18), Mattathias (I Maccabees 2). The Zealots viewed themselves in line with this tradition of even armed action against oppression, and in Jesus’ day, their opponents were the Roman occupiers.
Yet also in the Twelve is Levi (Matthew), a tax collector who made his living precisely by aligning with the occupying powers and collecting revenues for them. He would have been considered a public sinner (like Zaccheus) for this role.
The main group is composed of fishermen: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Of Thomas, Bartholew, Jude, and James (son of Alphaeus) little is indicated of their backgrounds. Finally, two have Greek names, Philip and (again) Andrew, a foreshadowing of the mission to the Gentiles.
Pope Benedict’s point here is that “in terms of their actual opinions, of their thinking about the way Israel was to be saved, they were an extremely varied group. This helps us to understand … the kinds of tensions that had to be overcome. … Precisely in this wide range of backgrounds, temperaments, and approaches, the Twelve personify the Church of all ages and its difficult task of purifying and unifying these men in the zeal of Jesus Christ” (pp. 178-79).