Only two pairs of apostles go straight to new towns: at Thomas’s suggestion, the other four pairs start in towns where Jesus has already been. Their plan is this: go find people who embraced Jesus’ teachings, ask them if they have relatives in other towns, and preach over kinship lines so they can spend more time teaching and less time looking for people to teach.
But things don’t always go according to plan.
Matthew and Thomas make a stop at a roadside village not far from Capernaum where Jesus was received well on his last visit, but find themselves greeted with suspicion. Old friends of Thomas’s have been here in the meantime: friends who followed Jesus, then left him. Memory is a strange thing, thinks Thomas: the people in this village have talked with Jesus, but the words they claim to have heard from his mouth sound more like the words his detractors would have left. How could they have forgotten the teachings that so recently moved them? Though their eyes remember, it’s as if their ears never really heard Jesus at all.
Judas and Simon travel farther before the rocky hillsides cut at their feet through sandals that have worn thin as they’ve walked with their Master. Luckily, they too are near a village that had gladly listened to Jesus just a few months ago. They can still remember the dance the villagers held the night before they left, still remember the toasts to new teachings, the promises people made to change.
But no one is celebrating in the village on the day Judas and Simon return. The mood is somber, and the people walk around half-slumped down as they labor in the heat. Judas and Simon try to start conversations, but no one seems interested. Finally a tired-looking woman asks them, “What use are your teachings? John is dead, and your Master has abandoned us.” And that’s when Judas and Simon begin to understand what happened, begin to see how hopelessness has hardened into resentment here. They try to plead with people, try to revive their crushed young faith again—but it’s hard, thankless work and they decide before long to move on.
Peter and Andrew come to the village Jesus’ brothers tried to take him home from, and everyone’s happy to see them again. They’re immediately invited back to the wine house, but there’s space today to serve real wine and they’re offered cup after cup after cup as aging men tell them how their farms are doing, and young men tell them about the thorny paths they’re taking in love. Peter and Andrew listen politely, then try to teach—but whenever the brothers stop talking the village men bring up the same things: farms and girls, girls and farms. And it’s clear that though they’ve nodded and made polite sounds, they haven’t been listening to the brothers at all. And though it seems each of the men invites Peter and Andrew to stay in his home that night, the brothers announce they have to move on. So late? say the men. “You remember how our Master worked,” says Peter. And then they leave and Andrew shudders at the way men can fail to realize what they have forgotten.
Thomas and Matthew, Judas and Simon, Peter and Andrew—each pair will go on to find people who are looking for truth. They’ll find places where they can do miracles and have their teachings understood, which is perhaps the greatest miracle of all. But they’ll also remember these first villages and know that no progress is immune to time. That if people stop searching for truth, they often lose even the truth they once had.
But Philip and Nathanael will have to learn those lessons from the others, because Thomas’s system works better for them than they could have imagined. At the farming village where they stop, even people who missed Jesus when he came can still recite the story of his teachings and give the names of the villagers he healed. The old women who cook for Philip and Nathanael have more questions to ask, and the old men listen with them to the apostles’ answers. When the apostles ask who’d be ready to follow Jesus if he needed them, it seems the whole town is prepared to give up crops and take only livestock, pitching tents like the children of Israel as they followed Moses and Joshua. And before Philip and Nathanael can ask about relatives in other towns, the villagers ask them to go and see their family members here and there, say they’ve sent word in advance that disciples of Jesus will be coming, and offer to send a young kinsman or two with them to witness that what they have to say is true.
How many people will hear about Jesus through each person in this village, Philip wonders. Thirty? Sixty? A hundred?