by Fr. Tommy Lane
Luke is the only evangelist to tell us that Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before choosing the Twelve Apostles (Luke 6:12). Jesus’ choice of the Twelve Apostles therefore flows out of his prayer experience with his Father. The choice of the Twelve has the blessing of the heavenly Father. The Twelve are now beginning to share in the relationship between Jesus and the Father. This is even clearer in the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17 when Jesus prays,
I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me... (John 17:6)
The Twelve therefore have a unique calling, distinct from the larger group of disciples who were following Jesus, and Luke highlights this by stating that Jesus called his disciples to him and selected the Twelve out of that group of disciples (Luke 6:13). Luke is not the only evangelist to highlight the uniqueness of the vocation of the Twelve. In Mark’s parallel account, Mark uses the verb ποιέω (poieo) “to make/create” to describe Jesus’ act of choosing the Twelve so literally Mark says Jesus created Twelve (Mark 3:14 ἐποίησεν). In Mark therefore Jesus choosing the Twelve is creating them into the college of apostles. The Gospel of John also shows the uniqueness of the mission bestowed on the Twelve. In John 20:22 during his appearance to the apostles on Easter Sunday evening, before Jesus commissions them to forgive sins, he breathed (ἐνεφύσησεν) on them, the only time that verb is used in the New Testament but it is used seven times in the Old Testament almost always denoting breathing new life into someone (e.g. Gen 2:7; 1 Kings 17:21; Wis 15:11; Ezek 37:9). Jesus breathes on the apostles to bestow new life on them and then commissions them to forgive sins. So Luke, Mark and John tell us the Twelve Apostles received a special vocation from Jesus.
Luke says in today’s Gospel excerpt that Jesus called the Twelve “apostles.” Some scholars have suggested that the Greek word apostle (ἀπόστολος) is related to the Hebrew/Aramaic word šālîah (שׁליח) which although appearing in writing only later would have been known at the time of Jesus. The šālîah acted as the representative of the one who sent him, what he did on behalf of his sender was legally binding, he was under obedience to the one who sent him and acted in the best interests of the one who sent him. That same notion of representation and authority is conveyed by the Greek verb apostello (ἀποστέλλω). There is another Greek verb, pempo (πέμπω), which as you all know just means “to send.” But the Greek verb apostello means to send with authority and as representative. The very name that Jesus calls the Twelve, apostles, signifies the importance of their mission, they will be his representatives and have his authority.
In today’s Gospel excerpt then we see Jesus establishing a structure in his Church (Luke 6:12-16). The Church structure has the authority of God and flows out of Jesus’ night in prayer with his Father. The Church structure, with bishops as successors of the apostles, is God’s way of caring for us. The first reading, the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that Jesus is the capstone or cornerstone of the Church, the apostles and prophets are the foundations, and together with them we are being built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22).
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2011