[April 19, 2009] On Easter Sunday we heard how the women met the two angels (literally, messengers) at the tomb who told them to “remember,” and how two men met Jesus on the road to Emmaus who reminded them of what the Scriptures said concerning Him; they “remembered” Him when they broke bread together. After that, Jesus met with “the Eleven and those with them.” We will continue that story on the Day of Pentecost. Today we will go back to when Jesus chose the Twelve Apostles, and thus pick up where we left off.
We departed from our consecutive reading about eight weeks ago when we skipped ahead to the Transfiguration and the Cross. Now let us go back and remember where we were.
After Jesus’ baptism, He was tested in the wilderness and then He went to His home in Nazareth and announced the beginning of the Messianic “Year of Jubilee.” In Matthew’s gospel, He came out of the wilderness and announced that the “kingdom of the heavens” had drawn near to Israel in His own person. This is Luke’s version of that. The literal Year of Jubilee was described in the Torah as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the year following every seven sets of seven years (in other words, every fiftieth year), when liberation was proclaimed, slaves were freed, debts were forgiven, and all land that was sold was returned to its original owners. Isaiah in chapter 61 used this image to symbolize the time when the Messiah would come and liberate and restore Israel. Similar to His message in Matthew, in Luke Jesus proclaimed that He was inaugurating the new age in His own person, that is, “in their hearing.”
In his last talk to Israel, in Deuteronomy 27-30, Moses laid out the blessedness that was meant for Israel and told how, because of their unfaithfulness, they would lose it and come under God’s judgment. While in exile, God would be compassionate to them and turn their hearts back to Him and restore them, and at that time fulfill the promised blessing. This refers to the same event that Isaiah proclaimed.
Jesus opposed those who thought that they could seize God’s blessing by their own “zeal” (the proto-Zealots). Instead He called for faithfulness to God in a continuation of prophetic patience. God Himself would bring about the change of the age through the Messiah.
So Jesus makes this announcement and (after being rejected) goes to Capernaum. After He casts the demon out of the synagogue, He has some freedom there and sets up His base. He continues to teach in the synagogue and across the street at the home of Peter, where He also heals many people.
From there, in chapters 5 and 6, Jesus goes on His first circuit around Galilee, carrying out the plan that He announced in the synagogue of Nazareth. We read how He gathers disciples as He liberates people. He liberates Peter from his pre-occupation, then the leper from his uncleanness, then the paralytic from the sin that paralyzes him, then Levi from his being outcast by sin. In the last two stories at the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus restores the Sabbath for the hungry and withered. All of these events allude to the Messianic Jubilee, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, when the Messiah would liberate and restore the people—the poor of Israel who receive Him.
Jesus Calls the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16)
Thus God has come to the people in grace. Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel who seeks out the lost and gathers His sheep. He does not come as a Law-Giver and Judge, demanding that they satisfy God’s requirements first, but rather God Himself “will be compassionate to you … and will circumcise your heart … so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 30:3, 6). Jesus reveals Himself as this love of God, calling the poor and broken, and the sick and sinful; and He gives signs of God’s favor by healing the sick, forgiving sin, and restoring people’s lives.
But He also gathers. Not only does He liberate and restore, He gathers the poor of Israel by gathering them to Himself. He gathers them to be His disciples.
Even though He is the Sent One, the Messiah, He does not want to be alone. He not only gathers the flock under His wing, He sets apart Twelve to be with Him on “level ground.” He is not only the Only One, the Unique Savior. He is also our Exemplar and Model. As He is sent, He chooses Twelve to be apostles (literally, “sent ones”). These Twelve are chosen to accompany Jesus as eyewitnesses (Acts 1:21-22), and thus they are named. Later they will be sent out to bear witness to Israel of what they have seen. Their eyewitness testimony is embodied and stabilized in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. As eyewitnesses and sent ones, they will continue Jesus’ work in Israel after Jesus departs. Jesus continues to be present among us in reality through the Holy Spirit, as we gather in His name and “remember” Him by the testimony contained in the Four Gospels.
He does not do this arbitrarily but, as our Exemplar, He spends a whole night in prayer to God. Luke repeatedly emphasizes how much Jesus prayed (see 3:21; 5:16; 9:18; 9:28-29; 22:41-42) to show Jesus as our Example whom we need to follow in this regard. Even though He was the Son of God, He did not rely on His own judgment (of His own sinless soul) but depended on God and the Spirit of God that was upon Him (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18). We ought to be the same way.
Jesus Gathers His Disciples (6:17-19)
Jesus comes down from the mountain with the Twelve and stands on a level place with them. This is an interesting image. He does not stand alone but with His apostles. They also are disciples—pupils—and are in every way dependent on His teaching—they know nothing so far—yet they stand with Him. How awesome and humbling this is! We who are called to be co-workers of the apostles are in this same terrible place, with both Peter and Judas. Nevertheless, we are there by God’s choice, and by His grace.
The word disciple (related to the word “discipline”) means an apprentice or pupil, a learner. The disciples that gather around Jesus are those whom God calls to Him. All who believe into Christ are His disciples; every Christian is. We are learners and He is our leader, our teacher and our example. This can only be so, however, because He calls us and sets us free by His grace—as He did Peter and the leper and the paralytic and Levi. We do not come to Him because we are able or worthy, but because He has come to us and stretched out His hand to us.
Others come because they see and need the miracles, which are signs of God’s compassion and love and generosity. At first we are all equally needy. Too long have we felt abandoned and alone, and we can use this kind of attention. God calls us where we are, out of pure love. But we may also enjoy that kind of attention and want to wallow in our neediness. Many who come to Jesus want to remain infants; they do not want to “grow up.” We need, however, to get beyond our neediness and become disciples. While a disciple is hardly “grown up,” they have gotten past the “me-only” stage of infancy.
The Blessedness (6:20-21)
The remainder of this chapter in Luke, and the conclusion of Jesus’ first circuit away from His base in Capernaum, is a shortened version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The Shepherd of Israel, after announcing the Jubilee and gathering the liberated poor of Israel, now describes their blessedness. The word “blessed” is not exactly equivalent to “happy.” It speaks of God’s favor and implies joy and happiness, but the happiness may not be immediately apparent. The favor of God is, however, effective now. Keep in mind that our obsession with “happiness” is a modern phenomenon. We think we are all entitled to it. This is cultural (even if it is becoming global). So I would be careful about equating this blessedness with our concept of happiness. I think blessedness is something much deeper and more satisfying.
The blessed are the poor, the hungry, and those who mourn. Luke does not turn these into spiritual or moral categories (“poor in spirit,” “those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”). Rather, they are the common people who are needy and suffer loss; they are the people of Israel, excluding the powerful. We misunderstand Jesus, however, if we think that they are blessed because they are poor and hungry and mourning. Rather, they are blessed in their poverty and hunger and mourning because they have come to Him; they are His disciples; He has gathered them to Himself. In this way, the meaning is the same as in Matthew 5. In Matthew 5 He is the sphere of blessedness and those whom He calls He brings into that sphere. Here, He is the Shepherd and Savior, God’s presence in Israel in grace and love, and they are blessed by coming under His care, under the “shadow of His wing” (the wing of the Mother Hen). They are poor and hungry and they grieve over their loss or over their sinfulness, but He will care for them, and He will satisfy them.
The fulfillment of God’s promises will come to pass for them.
The Time of Rejection and Patience (6:22-26)
However, the manifestation of these promises for Israel (and the world) is not yet. Those whom Jesus calls enjoy the Jubilee in a still hidden way. For the judgment of God must still fall on those who are rich and satiated, and who are laughing. He is referring to the rich of Israel, the chief priests and those Sadducees and Pharisees and people who use their positions of power for their own gain. They are the ones who are jealous of Jesus or afraid of Him and who reject Him. When the church expands into the Gentile world, Paul realizes that this opposition is characteristic of the “age of the world,” the spiritual powers that enslave people in a world system. Until God judges the world, the kingdom of God—and the promises of God—cannot be fulfilled “out in the open.” Their fulfillment must take place in the interior transformation of our lives and in the existence of the church as the sociological precursor of the kingdom (where personhood is restored in our relations to one another) in the midst of the Gentile world. This will transform our communities, we hope, but it will not end the world as a spiritual (or rather, a soulical) gestalt. That will require the Second Advent.
In the meantime, “Blessed are you when men hate you and when they separate you from them and reproach you and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.” When Christ calls us, He liberates us from the grip that the world-gestalt has on us. Baptism signifies—thus effecting—this separation. The world recognizes this and will oppose us with all that it has. Nevertheless, Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” We are blessed because no matter what the world does, the world itself is an idolatrous delusion. The place that Jesus brings us into is reality. Blessedness is there, even though we are poor and hungry and are mourning. He will provide for us. But to enjoy the blessedness of it, we need to be His disciples, His learners. Thank-fully, it is His grace that puts us there. Let us enter where He calls us.