Luke 6:12-16

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.

One more thing about the calling of the disciples: Should we be concerned that they are all men?

To be honest, this is one of those things I never thought about growing up. It was just a given. Jesus had twelve disciples. The fact that they were all men didn’t even register. Maybe that’s because I was a boy; maybe it’s because it was what we all expected or were used to.

Which is, of course, the issue. We got so used to the fact that Jesus’ twelve disciples are men that we didn’t notice the way that implicitly fed our view of women in leadership – leadership in the church, in the home, in the world, and more. In recent decades, however, those views have become more explicit. As ordination was broadened to include women, for instance, some more conservative church leaders have pointed to Jesus’ male disciples to support arguing against women’s ordination.

So back to the question: should we be concerned about the fact that all of Jesus’ disciples are men? Or, since I’ve already raised it as a concern, maybe a better question is, what are we to make of the fact that all of Jesus’ disciples are men?

On that front, three things: 1) Actually, not all of the disciples are men. We’ve already remarked that Jesus had many followers that were called disciples. At this point in the story, he identifies twelve who will also be called apostles. As we’ll see, Luke regularly mentions women as playing significant roles in the ministry in Jesus throughout both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Women are in every way central to Jesus’ mission.

2) Moreover, women regularly serve as the model of faithfulness. Simon’s mother-in-law, as we saw, as soon as she is healed serves, not simply from a cultural sense of “a woman’s role,” but because service is the mark of discipleship. Similarly, the women are the ones who remain with Jesus to the end. When all the men flee the cross, it is the women who remain behind to watch so that they may also care for Jesus after his death. And it is the women to whom the angels give the good news of the resurrection, and it is the women who believe. The men discount their witness as “an idle tale,” but the women persevere in faith (Luke 24:1-12).

3) Jesus will at various points challenge the conventional wisdom of what constitutes “leadership” and “greatness.” Particularly in connection to his predictions of his own death, Jesus overturns worldly notions of exercising power and – through his exhortation and even more his example – demonstrates that true greatness comes through service and true power is exercised in sacrificial love. Of the various characters in Luke’s gospel, the woman regularly come closest to emulating Jesus’ model and command.

For all these reasons, and given the male-dominated culture of the first century, I wonder if Jesus was simultaneously working within the culture – appointing twelve men as his apostles – even as he sought to overturn cultural expectations by challenging notions of leadership and power, giving the women of his company significant roles to play, and entrusting them first with the message of the resurrection. Perhaps, in fact, the resurrection – as heralded first by women – creates a new world and new reality, one feature of which is that, as the Apostle Paul says, there is “no longer male or female, for all of us are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

More than that, I suspect that if we are to find an example in Jesus’ conduct, it is more likely to be the example of assigning leadership not according to gender but rather according to those who lead through service and love.

Prayer: Dear God, let us follow you Son as disciples by treating all with respect and dignity, giving all responsibility for the kingdom, and serving all as Jesus did. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Post image: “Companion: Mary Magdalene with Joanna and Susanna” by Janet McKenzie, oil on canvas (detail)