When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. – Luke 9:1-2.
“Laity” is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “all the people who are involved with a Church but who are not priests or the clergy”. Thus, people who are involved with a church but who do not hold official religious positions.
Are you surprised at Jesus’ choice of His leadership team? A close reading of Luke Chapter 9 suggest that the Twelve were not exactly prize recruits for new spiritual movement. They showed some frightening patterns and embarrassing traits that might cause a manager to wonder, “Who hired these people? How in the world can they possibly get the job done?”
Jesus recruited them, and He delegated real power and authority to them to get the job done, not just token responsibilities as often happens when leaders “delegate” task to their subordinates. When they reported back from their first assignment, He took them aside for a “performance review” at a private place near Bethsaida, small fishing village on the north Galilee and home town of several team members.
From that point, the Twelve made eight identifiable mistakes that we might be tempted to assume would disqualify them from leadership:
1. They acted from a short- sighted vision. When their retreat was interrupted by a crowd eager to meet Jesus all they could see was their limited resources in a desert place.
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” – Luke 9:12-13
2. Some of them fell asleep at a moment of great opportunity. When Jesus met with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history, Peter, James and John were caught napping.
About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure,which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and His companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. – Luke 9:28-32.
3. They tried to preserve the status quo. Peter wanted to hang on to a good experience and build monuments to it.
As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. – Luke 9:33-36
4. They gave way to fear of the unknown. Jesus healed an epileptic boy, but then fear caused the Twelve not to ask questions when they were confused.
And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, He said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it. – Luke 9:43-45.
5. They competed to see who would be top dog. The disciples argued over greatness and privilege rather than concern themselves with serving others. Contrast that with Jesus’ treatment of seekers, especially “children” and “the least”.
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside Him. Then He said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” – Luke 9:46-48.
6. They dallied in partisan politics. Encountering a rival teacher, the disciples tried to claim exclusive rights to God’s activity. By contrast, Jesus included any and all who were sincerely interested in serving God in His name.
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” – Luke 9:49-50
7. They plotted a dirty tricks campaign. When their ethnic enemies proved inhospitable, the Twelve turned vicious. Jesus replied by issuing one of His strongest rebukes.
As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then He and His disciples went to another village. – Luke 9:51-56.
8. They bit off ore than they could chew. As they travelled along, Jesus’ followers overstated their commitment; in the end they failed to deliver what they promised.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:57-62
Despite these shortcomings, Jesus not only kept the Twelve on His team, He kept them as His first team! He showed that undeveloped freshmen can be developed into servant-leaders – over time. Even though they were weak, competitive, self-centered, unrealistic about themselves, and insensitive to others, He kept working with them.
The Lord’s hopes were rewarded, but only after His death and resurrection. Luke Chapter 9 is merely the beginning of the story. The outcome can be found in Acts, where Luke goes on to show that God uses empowered laypeople like the Twelve – and like us today – to do His work.
Can we as laity do the work of God? Absolutely! But as we do, we need to take a serious look at ourselves and ask God to help us purge out those mistaken attitudes that we share with Jesus’ early leaders.
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