What if Jesus chose the wrong brother?

Can you just suspend your cries of heresy whilst you read this one blog post?

Because it will make you think, that’s why.

What if Jesus chose the wrong brother on whom to found his church? What would the church look like if he had chosen Andrew instead of Peter?

People rather like doing speculative history. As the world thinks about the time of war that raged a hundred years ago, there have been a couple of documentaries about what life would have been like today if the war had never been fought or if the outcome had been different. What if the bullet had missed Archduke Ferdinand?

Similarly, when I was last in London I saw a great play that imagined a Britain in which the present Queen had just died and came up with a drama about the chaos that ensued when the new King Charles III picked a fight with parliament and refused to sign Acts of Parliament into law.

The Labour Party, currently in the doldrums in the UK is haunted by the choice of leader they had to make a couple of years ago. People will always ask – what if they had chosen the other Milliband brother. Maybe they would have asked whichever brother had been chosen.

So, I ask you to think for a minute this St Andrewstide what life would have been like for the world if Jesus had chosen the other brother. Peter (“the rock on whom I will build my church”) and Andrew (“There is a lad here with five barley loaves and two small fishes”) were the choice he had.

The question is, what if Jesus (and we the church are the body of Christ in the world today so we might as well ask “..if we…”) had chosen not the person who was destined forever to be a gatekeeper but chosen one who had an instinct for hospitality and introductions?

So much of church life has been predicated on the power to open the gates of heaven. So much has been based on deciding who is in and who is out. We have a whole genre of humour that is based on what people say at the pearly gates to Peter to see whether they gain admission to the feast or not.

What if Jesus had chosen the other brother?

What if we had based our notion of church life on the brother who was particularly good at inviting others to help Jesus make eucharist? What if we had based our notions of church life on the brother who seemed to have a gift for introducing others to Jesus, not least his impetuous hothead of a brother Peter? For Andrew seemed to have a natural affinity for bringing people (including children, note) right into the presence of Christ. And it is Andrew who famously, with Philip, brought Greeks (ie foreigners, migrants, outsiders). Indeed, in that case, Andrew seems to have been the go-between – the Greeks approached Philip who didn’t know what to do and Andrew took them all off to the very presence of Jesus straight away, instinctively, impetuously even.

What if Jesus had chosen the brother with the impetuous, infectious, hospitable, personality instead of the one who always worried about whether he was right or wrong and who seems to have had a short fuse? What if he had chosen the brother who practised natural inclusive spirituality rather than the one who stands like a doorpost never able to stop judging people?

What would our church have looked like then?

Did Jesus wonder as he watched and waited and prayed in Gethsemane the night before he died whether he had made the right choice? Did he comfort himself with the idea that having picked a whole bunch of disciples, they couldn’t all make a hash of the task in hand? When the disciples slept and Jesus prayed, what did he hope for the world that was to have to learn of his message through the band of named apostles and the others (the women! the faithful weeping women who did last it out at the foot of the cross!) who were part of his movement?

I know it is uncomfortable asking whether Jesus ever got something wrong. Religions are programmed to believe that their founders got it right, preached gospel truth, knew exactly what they were doing.

But ours is a faith with a vulnerable God.

Can you even allow for the fact that he wondered?

And if you can, can you wonder whether the different personalities that Jesus surrounded himself with give us different moods, different ways of thinking about being Christ’s followers? Is this the time in the life of the church where the fulness of Jesus’s choices are realised and we begin to act as though all the gifts of his disciples matter if we are going to bring the kingdom in?

What would the church be like now if it had been founded on the brother whose intimacy with Jesus was such that he was happy to let him wash his feet rather than the brother who didn’t like to be touched?

This St Andrewstide, let yourself wonder what life would have been like if we had presumed that Andrew’s gifts were the way to extend and grow the church.

And give thanks for him.

He may not have been the rock upon which Jesus chose to found the church in those days.

But which brother would he chose today?


  1. Stephen says

    Thank you for this posting. Whilst your blog is usually interesting, this was riveting. Hugely thought provoking and perhaps gets right to the heart of what really is the matter with the Church. Perhaps Jesus knew what He was doing in choosing Peter – setting in place a Problem that the Church would need eventually to confront and solve, or flounder and fail?

  2. I stated on the Feast of Christ the King “I have only known one monarch …and that was not a King “…. .yes yes with all respect we love our Queen
    It is my earnest prayer that Charles III is never the King of Australia. But that battle yet awaits us!
    I imagine many Scots feel likewise!
    Incidentally if he happened to be called James would he be James VII of Scotland
    Hardly relevant questions for the modern world and church!

  3. Thanks for this one. We are St Catherine of Alexandria – it is interesting to speculate on different followers of Christ and what would the church be like if they were our models. Read about her on our website.

  4. Robin says

    > Incidentally if he happened to be called James would he be James VII of Scotland

    No. James VII of Scots (there has never been any such person as the King of Scotland) reigned de facto 1685-8 and de jure 1685-1701. His son was recognised as James VIII of Scots (III of England) by the Scottish Episcopal Church and reigned de jure 1701-66.

    A new heir called James would be James VIII of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, taking the higher numeral (as confirmed in 1953 by the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, although this would not necessarily bind a future sovereign).

    • Fr Steve says

      full answer to my original bemused question
      and indeed as I say…..hardly of much relevance to 21st century Australia…..which nevertheless gets enthused occasionally about the possibility of becoming a republic

  5. Meg Rosenfeld says

    That’s an interesting–nay, unique–reading of Peter’s initial refusal to let Jesus wash his feet: he didn’t like to be touched. Why, then did he go on to list additional parts to be washed?

    He definitely had a short fuse, but where are examples of his failure to be hospitable?

    Mind you, I’m not putting Andrew down; he seems to have been a great exemplar of hospitality and other virtues which we sorely need.

    • >>He definitely had a short fuse, but where are examples of his failure to be hospitable?

      Er, cutting off someone’s ear?

      • Meg Rosenfeld says

        Well, that certainly did not earn him the title of Host with the Most! To me it seems more short-fused that purely inhospitable, but then I’m not a theologian.

  6. I think Jesus is very astute and inclusive. Peter’s qualities wouldn’t have got him the job as CEO of a multinational company but that’s not the church. Each disciple brings something special to the table.

  7. M Fargis says

    “Can you even allow for the fact that he wondered?” – I personally have trouble with this. As a member of the triune Godhead with access to the knowledge of the infinite, Jesus would have known all possible states of His church in 2014 depending on which disciple He selected then. To me a better question is why the God who chose obscurity didn’t put one of the other 7 (not Peter, Andrew, John or James, and of course not Judas) in charge?

    • Is it your position that whilst he was in the manger, Jesus knew what 2014 would look like?

      If so, it is impressive theology but I’ve no idea what it means.

      • Meg Rosenfeld says

        I’ve always understood the description of Jesus as being fully human as meaning that he started out with as much knowledge as the typical newborn, and while he may have had some interesting dreams and unusual insights during childhood, didn’t even begin to realize who he was until his first visit to the Temple, at an age–early adolescence–when kids begin to form their adult selves, a sort of simultaneous opening-out and reaching-within process. It seems logical to assume that he didn’t have total awareness of his nature until his baptism, and then he needed a few weeks alone in the wilderness to deal with having, as it were, finally put all the pieces together. Even so, given free will and all that, I don’t see him as being able to predict the future down to a gnat’s eyebrow; you simply can’t know when someone else is suddenly going to go bad (or good). Having that sort of omniscience would, I think, make Jesus’ actions during those great three years of ministry less miraculous and more like cheap magic tricks.

  8. Do we have a trinitarian understanding of God centred in the person and work of Jesus?

  9. Jesus chose 12 apostles, they were all important. Just as we try to teach in churches today that it is not just the priest/vicar/minister/pastor who has the job of ministry, but that it is something we should all be doing. It’s OUR fault that we don’t value the ministry of St Andrew highly enough Our fault that we concentrate on the whole concept of salvation rather than welcome. To concern myself as to whether or not I will be saved would be to me be very selfish, in fact I don’t care, I only care how I can serve. And I find it very lonely because, although most churches have some charitable activity, it is a side issue (and often it is about ‘us in here’ and ‘them out there’), Andrews attitude is simply, here we are, lets share what we’ve got and all shall be well. I am not interested in going to a church that sings, and preaches all about salvation all the time, nor can I preach in such a church if my own, ‘social justice’ preaching is unwelcome. I am an outsider with no spiritual home. A church led by all the apostles, with all their different gifts and teachings, might be somewhere I could come home to.

  10. Pepper Marts says

    Some thirty-odd years ago I wrote a paper on a series of third century bishops. Although no copy survives (I hope), I still recall the ante- and penultimate sentences: “Jesus invited us into the reign of God on earth. We chose instead the kingdom of the Church and set heaven above the skies; then we locked the door.”

    Successors of Peter indeed!

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