Raising up people to lead

Pentecost 22 (Simon and Jude)

Luke 6:12-16

Marian Free

 In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, one God in community. Amen.

From quite early on, readers of the Bible have noticed the differences between the four gospels and there have been a number of attempts to resolve the differences. Human beings do this for at least two reasons. Firstly, as the Bible is the holy text of the Christian faith, many people are uncomfortable with the idea that there is not ONE story about Jesus. (This is exacerbated by the fact that the existence of multiple accounts can be a source of embarrassment in the face of external criticism.) Secondly, it seems that the human mind is uncomfortable with and wants to resolve the differences.

One of the earliest responses to the “problem” was to conflate the four to create an integrated account, that is to use all four gospels to create one single version. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t allow us to explore and value the different approaches of the writers. Other responses have been to come up with explanations for the differences between the gospels. For example, a popular explanation has been to compare the gospels writers with witnesses to say – a car accident. As each witness will remember and report in different ways, either because of what they saw or the perspective they brought to it, so it is with the gospels. The difficulty with this approach is that it doesn’t take into account the community which told and re-told the stories or the ways in which the stories were transmitted.

The gospels as we have them were not written down until about thirty years after the death of Jesus. In the meantime the community which formed in Jesus’ name repeated the stories of his life, the stories he told and the things that he did. Given that people met in separate groups and in different places it is more extraordinary that the accounts are so how similar than that they have differences.

What happened it seems is that each community told and re-told the stories that captured the imagination of its members or which were important for its communal life. So for example, a community that was experiencing persecution – as is sometimes supposed of the community for whom Mark wrote – may place different emphases on the stories from a community which is not experiencing persecution.

Today’s gospel comes from the Gospel of Luke. An important thing to know about the writer of Luke is that he wrote two books – the gospel and the book of Acts. Luke’s primary concern was to write a history of the church from tis beginning in Jerusalem to its reaching the centre of the Roman Empire. For Luke then, the Gospel is something of a prologue to the story of the early church. More than the other gospels then, Luke has his mind not on the life of Jesus but on the formation of the faith community which comes after his death and resurrection. This information is particularly important as background for today’s gospel – Jesus’ choice of the twelve apostles.

If you were to read the accounts of the choosing of the twelve apostles in Matthew, Mark and Luke you would discover some significant differences between the three. All are agreed that Jesus chose twelve from among those who were following him and  all precede the account with the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John and of Matthew (Levi). Mark and Luke  agree in situating the choice of the twelve on a mountain. However, while in Mark and Matthew the twelve are equipped for mission – authorised to proclaim the message, heal the sick and to cast out demons – in Luke they are not. Perhaps the most important difference is that in Luke Jesus chooses the twelve after spending a night in prayer.

By his placement of the account, his inclusion of Jesus’ prayer and his naming of the twelve as Apostles, Luke is setting the scene for his second book – the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostles are to play an important role not only as Jesus’ off-siders during his lifetime, but also as leaders of the early church. The second verse of Acts affirms this. Before Jesus is taken up into heaven he instructs, through the Holy Spirit the Apostles whom he had chosen. We are also told that the early community devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. “With great power the Apostles gave testimony to the resurrection to the Lord Jesus.” Not only this but Acts tells us that the Apostles performed many signs and wonders among the community.

In the Gospel, Luke is establishing the authority of the twelve, making it clear that their role in the emerging community was conferred by Jesus himself. The Apostles are, in Luke’s mind, the direct heirs of Jesus’ and legitimate leaders in the early church. They will not only continue Jesus’ work and teaching, but will guide the believers through the difficult time of forming community, raising up leaders, facing persecution and imprisonment and working out how to respond to the increasing number of non-Jews who are moved to faith by the Holy Spirit. It is the seriousness of their task which causes Jesus to spend the night in prayer before setting the twelve apart. The teaching which follows their selection – the sermon on the plain – will provide guidance for the community. Jesus’ teaching will provide guidelines for living together and for relating to the world.

The choice of the twelve is a very serious decision. Their role, according to Luke, will be not only to carry on the mission of Jesus in his absence, but to build on it and to ensure that through those who come to believe, a community will be formed which will ensure the continuity of Jesus’ work and message.

Luke’s history may be idealized and formulaic, but whatever else it does, it places the Apostles firmly at the centre of the emerging church and as it does so ensures that the church is in safe hands – hands that have been chosen and set apart for the task by Jesus himself. Through the Apostles the emerging community was steered through its early difficulties and teething problems into a distinct and lasting expression of faith which became the church which exists to this day.

Jesus’ wisdom in sharing the burden of leadership and his vision and foresight in providing leaders for the future ensured that his message was not lost but continued to spread and grow. Let us pray that leaders continue to be raised up so that the gospel may continue to be shared, faith communities be formed and strengthened and individuals be encouraged and built up. Amen.

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