Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. – Luke 6:12-19 (NRSV)
Withness Community is journeying through Luke. Every so often, I come to a passage and wonder if I should just add the whole next section because there isn’t much there. These verses in Luke are just that. Nestled between Sabbath controversies and Jesus’ teaching on the plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount), Luke 6:12-19 seem to serve as a nothing more than a highway spur to get from one place to another.
But then I sat with them awhile.
I’m overjoyed at your word, like someone who finds great treasure. – Psalm 119:162 (CEB)
As I walked through the passage again and again, I found three different sermons in these eight verses: calling, naming and healing. Each represents something significant about Jesus’ ministry and his relationship with us.
At the center of these “throw-away” verses are the names of the 12 disciples. Like genealogies, the list of the disciples’ names is easily skimmed over (there are two Simons, two James’, and two Judas’ – must be the Liam and Ethan of the early first century). Only the two Judas’ find their names together. I wonder whether Judas, son of James, was constantly reminding people he wasn’t that other Judas.
Simon Peter is first, since Jesus named him the Rock. Judas Iscariot is last, because he was the traitor. But neither of these men were a rock or a traitor when Jesus called them as his disciples and named them apostles.
Simon becomes the Rock – but first, he became a traitor, a betrayer, just like Judas. Judas became a traitor, but Jesus never named him that. Like Simon, Judas was called out of the “great crowd of disciples” to be named apostle. They both started from the same place, travelled similar paths, but one recovered from his role as traitor and the other did not.
This fills me with both hope and sadness.
The name that Jesus gives us is both true and difficult to accept. I can easily accept “disciple” but “beloved child” is more difficult. Peter did eventually live into his name the Rock but it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of failures before that miraculous sermon on Pentecost when 3,000 were baptized. (Do you think the disciples made fun of his new name? Like, “What happens to the Rock when it tries to walk on water?”) If I was Peter, I would have been more comfortable for people to call me Simon. I would be afraid of letting Jesus down – sure that I could never live into his plan for me. But at some point, grace touched Simon Peter deeply enough that he truly believed the name Jesus had given him.
But not so with Judas. Maybe the name apostle never felt right. Maybe Judas felt like he didn’t do things as well as the other 12 – that he didn’t really ever fit in. Maybe grace was too good to be believed – that it was for others but not for him. And so maybe Judas never believed the name that Jesus gave him. Instead, he became something else – naming himself traitor.
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (CEB)
We never know what battle people are fighting. At times, someone may feel that even grace is too heavy to bear. For those who are able to believe and accept the grace Jesus offers, may the joy of God be yours as you live as one named by Christ. For those who feel you are struggling to believe and accept the grace Jesus offers, may you soon know the day when grace touches you deeply and profoundly.
But now, says the LORD—the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. – Isaiah 43:1 (CEB)