The gospel page proposed for our meditation today focusses our attention on the institution of the Twelve. Already in Mk 1.16-20, we are told of the call of the first disciples of Jesus. But in the present passage the call reaches another level: from now on the “called” constitute a special group. They must not only, like the other disciples, follow Jesus. They must especially be with him, so as to be sent out to preach. It is particularly in Mk 6, 12-13 that we see them in full activity, exercising their ministry of preaching. The institution of the Twelve is therefore presented here as a passage which prepares the sending of the same group on their mission (Mk 6, 6b-13). It is situated within the whole context of the preaching mission of Jesus in Galilee – a mission which the Twelve are associated with in a particular way (Mk 3,7 – 6,56).
The question which immediately arises is the following: why does Jesus advocate the number twelve? This number makes reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. It points especially to the hope relative to the restoration of the People of Israel at the end of time. The restoration of the people of God had already been announced by the prophets (cf. Is 44, 21-28; 49, 6-23; 60, 1-22), and the institution of the Twelve is the beginning of it's realization. It is well confirmed by Jesus' explanation of the decisive role which those who have followed him will play at the end of time (cf. Mt 19, 28).
Another important element to take into consideration in the text of Mark is the change of names which some of the “chosen” undergo. Simon receives the name Peter (from the Greek petra which means rock, foundation). The same applies to James and John who receive the name Boanerges, which means sons of thunder. This change of name finds its meaning in the Jewish tradition where the new name given to someone marks the acquisition in life of a new position or a new status - as was the case for Abraham (Gn 17, 5) and James (Gn 32, 29). In the specific case of the disciples mentioned, Peter is called to play, from now on, the role of rock or foundation for the new People of God which Jesus intends to establish (Mt 16, 18). The two disciples James and John, along with Peter, will also constitute a privileged group which Jesus will be able to involve in certain key events of his life (cf. Mk 5, 37; 9, 2; 14, 33).