Q —I understand this may be a silly question to you, but I’ve always been curious about the personalities of the disciples (context being how they behaved around people), so my question is: Were any of the disciples, before and during their time with the Lord, considered social misfits? Also, did any of the disciples not get along with each other?

A — I do not consider these questions silly question at all, but they are questions that really cannot be answered directly because, quite simply, we do not have access to all the data we need to formulate careful and informed judgments about the personalities of the disciples. I am quite sure there were tensions, perhaps even dislikes among the followers of Jesus, because that is part of what it is to be human. 

Peter is mentioned more frequently in the Gospels than any of the others, undoubtedly because of his leadership role. Jesus cured his mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14), something for which Peter and the family must have been very grateful. Peter attempted to walk on the water, but due to his “little faith,” he was not successful and Jesus reached out his hand to save him. Does this reflect something of Peter’s impulsiveness? He objects to the prediction of the Passion by Jesus, and Jesus rebukes him for this (Matt. 16:22f). No doubt Peter’s objection was an expression of his love for Jesus — “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But was he really listening to Jesus? When Jesus was arrested, Peter assaulted Malchus, the high-priest’s servant with a sword (John 18:10). He wants to defend Jesus. But soon after he denies Jesus three times. Peter comes across as a loveable, impetuous, committed-but-frightened man.

Let’s turn to Judas. We know that Judas Iscariot was one of the Twelve Apostles. Mark (Mk. 3.16-19), Matthew (Mt. 10.2-4), and Luke (Lk. 6.13-16) all list him with the others. If we trawl through the Gospels we know that Judas makes an ungracious remark on the occasion of Jesus being anointed at Bethany (John 12:5). Judas is portrayed as small-minded and mean. Finally, he betrays Jesus to the authorities for money, and betrays him with a kiss, the sign of friendship.

Then, there’s James and John, the so-called “sons of thunder.” After Jesus has told the Twelve for the third time that the Son of Man is going to suffer and die, both James and John, as if they had never ever heard this, request places of privilege — to sit at his right hand and his left hand “in his glory” (Mk. 10.37). They seem to have been ambitious. I’m sure the others were somewhat annoyed at James and John, perhaps because they didn’t get in first! 

Really, the descriptions of the Twelve with the little we know about them not only offers us tiny glimpses into their personalities, but also offer us hints and shades of ourselves. We too like them have been called by Jesus, “Follow me.” And in our following we too, like them, sometimes get it right and sometimes wrong.  We are the Twelve in so many ways, called to follow, to be disciples, and so very predictably we mess up: we deny, we are selfishly ambitious at times, and we betray.