In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16)
There is an essential connection between last week’s passage and the texts we will be looking over the next couple of weeks that can be easily missed if we were only to look at each of them in isolation. Last week we saw Jesus confronting the Scribes and the Pharisees on their interpretation of the law, which, for all its apparent precision, nonetheless revealed a complete misunderstanding of the Law’s purpose and, most importantly, of the love on which it was founded. This week we see Jesus, after a night spent in prayer, calling out of his larger group of disciples those who would be his closest companions in ministry, and through whom he would eventually found his church. And next week we will be looking at Jesus’ sermon on the mount in which we are given his most famous message of all: the Beatitudes
So, what is the connection between all of these texts?
The answer lies subtly in the number of apostles he chose: twelve, a number that had played a significant role in Israel’s history and, most significantly, that evoked the twelve tribes of which she was comprised.
Why does this matter?
Because Luke has organized this material in such a way as to contrast the failure of many within Israel’s establishment to truly know the heart of God and represent that heart to the world around them, with the growth of a community of disciples that would gather to not only hear Jesus’ preaching and receive his healing, but also to obey him. These were to become the true sons and daughters of God and, as such, in a profound sense they would become the true Israel, God’s people on earth called to be the light to the nations, reflecting his love and holiness to all around them
It is tempting to see in this moment a rupture with the past, that here in establishing a new leadership (the apostles now in place of the Saduccees and Pharisees) and a new view of the way the world works (the Beatitudes in the place of the Law), Jesus is rejecting the old way, whether in its regulations or in its practices. However this cannot be, for Jesus is clear that he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. And the fact that he is the incarnation of the very God who, in love, made the law behooves us to seek out continuity, not rupture or abrogation
It is also tempting in this moment to see in the contrast that Luke seems to strike a simple dichotomy between the Pharisees and Scribes on the one hand as those who reject Jesus’s ministry and the disciples and apostles as those who accept and obey Jesus without reservation. However, the inclusion of one name on the list of apostles reveals Luke’s own caution against such a simplistic view of the world: Judas, who we are told “became a traitor.” Joel Green makes this point well:
“Reality, even reality as relatively simplified and as interpreted in the form of Luke’s narrative, is not so rudimentary…not all Pharisees can be characterized negatively and, as we now learn, even a disciple, even one named an apostle in obedience to God’s design, can oppose God’s purpose.” (emphasis added)
It is a simple yet profound truth that even those who are in the so-called “inner-circle” of Christianity—whether they are leaders within the church, or simply regular church-goers—can, tragically become so separated from Christ that they no longer reflect his heart to the world around them, or even come to betray him. We must be willing to recognize this not only as a reality for others, but also for ourselves. I’ve always been humbled by the fact that many of those who believed they were most faithfully keeping the Law of God, could not even recognize the God who made that Law when he stood in their midst, or that one who followed him so closely during his entire earthly ministry could so easily betray him. I cannot help but wonder where I might be similarly blind or unfaithful in my own life. Where might you?
Perhaps this where the naming of Simon as Peter can give us all heart, for as we know, he too betrayed Christ and yet nowhere is it listed as the description by which he is known. To the contrary, we are told that Jesus, himself, named him Peter, which means “rock”. Green points out the word used here for naming is much deeper than simply the bestowal of a title or name; it is a reflection of his character and person. He is a rock not only in light of his future function as the head of the apostles, but also because he is one who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them (Luke 6:46-49), even though he sometimes failed.
The truth is, we will all fail to obey Christ fully and fail to love others in the ways in which we are called to love them—sometimes in minor ways, other times epically. But at the end of the day, it is neither our successes nor our failures that determine our witness to Christ and his unfailing love. It is our relationship with him, for we cannot share whom we ourselves don’t know, nor can we give what we ourselves don’t have. To this end, it is striking that there is no apparent role given to the apostles at this point to distinguish them from the other disciples. They are simply to be “with” him, for the whole foundation of their ministry rests on this companionship: on identifying with and being shaped in relationship to Jesus’ life and mission.
Notably, it is this companionship that would ultimately be the key credential for serving as an apostolic witness in Acts when they eventually sought someone suitable to replace Judas after the resurrection (1:21-22). And it is, likewise, the key credential for our own service as witnesses to Christ. Indeed, without it, there can be no witness, for as I wrote above, we cannot share whom we do not know, nor can we give what we do not have.
What steps might he be calling you to take to grow in companionship with him? And how might you grow in your identification with his life and mission? Whether it is through striving towards greater discipline in prayer and Bible study, or through greater involvement in his work through missions, ministry and evangelization, I pray that he will bring you into a deeper experience of his abundant life and his unfailing love.
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.