The disciples were sitting on a bluff at the edge of town watching the sunset when two friends of Simon approached. They greeted the other disciples and then asked to speak with Simon alone. The three men departed along a quiet footpath in the gathering darkness. They had been friends for a long time; they knew and trusted one another. A few years earlier they had become supporters of a quiet resistance movement among faithful Jews who wanted to rid their country of the scourge of Roman occupation. They hid weapons and supplies, trained young men for fighting and prepared for the day when the power of the Roman Empire waned and Judah would be able to re-establish its sovereignty.
As the friends walked along, they talked about their families, and Simon recounted his travels since joining Jesus’ company. Then his friends asked Simon if they could still count on his support for the movement. Simon was silent for a time as he pondered his response. He felt both affection and sadness. He knew that the Roman occupation had taken a terrible toll on his friends. The brother of one had been killed by a Roman soldier over some trivial matter. The children of the other were sick and undernourished because Roman taxes left little upon which the family could survive. Both friends had good reason to hate the Romans.
Simon stopped walking, turned to his friends and explained that he could no longer be part of the resistance movement. He loved and admired his friends and would continue to pray that God guide and protect them, but Simon could no longer assist them in their efforts. He was following Jesus now, and Jesus had something entirely different in mind.
We do not know much about Simon the Zealot. He is included in the list of the twelve apostles in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, but nothing more is said about him in Scripture. We are not even sure what Luke means when he refers to him as a Zealot. Perhaps Simon was part of the extreme nationalist group that opposed Roman occupation and came into prominence 30 years later. Perhaps he was simply zealous for God.
In any case, Simon was strongly committed to his faith and willing to face any opposition he encountered. Jesus recognized those qualities in him when he invited him to be a follower. Jesus wanted people who would be passionate for the Kingdom. And Simon must have recognized something very special in Jesus, that he would put aside any plans of resisting the Romans and would accept Jesus’ message of love, peace and reconciliation.
The example of Simon the Zealot reminds us of three things. First, followers of Jesus are invited to proclaim the Kingdom of God in weakness rather than strength. We are sent out as sheep among wolves, vulnerable to attack. Some of us might be called to accept a loss of freedom, injury or even death, but we do not take up arms or strike back. We try to love our enemies and not destroy them, confident in the power of God’s love and grace.
Second, the story of Simon reminds us that God’s plans are not always the same as our own. We might have chosen a path in life and even traveled down that path for a time when we realize that God has something else in mind for us. We ask that God give to us the same grace that he gave to Simon: to be attentive to God’s invitations and to be free and courageous enough to accept them.
Finally, the story of Simon reminds us that Jesus need companions who are passionate about the Kingdom, who are willing to face opposition and accept inconvenience in pursuing God’s hopes for the world.
Author’s note: St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to use our imagination in contemplating Scripture passages so that we might draw greater fruit from them. In reflecting on the brief reference to Simon in the gospels, I imagine some of the details of his story.