A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

This reflection originated out of a request from The Commons to talk on my favourite apostle. 

The New Testament describes the way Christ’s disciples become apostles. This word “apostle” means, literally, “to send away.” In order to send someone away, he or she must first be with you. The apostles must have been at some point in the presence of Christ before he dismissed them before he sent them away. And it is this event — the send-off — from which their title is derived. Typically Christians focus on being with Christ, following close behind him, being “Christ-like.” However, to be an apostle means something a little different; it emphasizes a departure from Christ, a commission.

My two adorable little boys follow Jen and me everywhere as they learn, grow, and mature. But a day will come when they must be sent out from under our feet into the world where, as Leland likes to say, it’s “too sunny”. The shift from child to young adult or disciple to apostle is a significant movement.

The transition between being a follower and being sent away is challenging. When we are sent away, we encounter new surprises, things that don’t fit perfectly into the curriculum, and now we must decide what to do without referring to an authority. And this tension, between following and making it up as we go, never subsides, it’s always with us as new surprises hide in each moment of our lives. Although exciting this movement can also be a struggle. Change, as we say, is never easy.

A parent’s desire for a better life for her child is a common hope. Wouldn’t it be great if all children grew to be kinder, gentler, and more compassionate than their parents? Similarly, I believe this hope parallels the words of Christ when he says, in John 14:12a, that those who believe in him will not only do the works he has done but will do even greater works than these. So on the one hand, we learn from Christ’s example, just as a son watches his mother. On the other hand, each day brings new challenges some of which demand a response that goes beyond the lessons learned, a response of even greater works than the teacher. In fact, justice and love require that we continually invent ways of caring for the uniqueness of each situation and person. The lessons we learn, from Christ or our parents, can only guide us, they do not provide an answer book for all the problems we will face in our lives. Hence, to go out into the world is to do more than simply follow. It requires that we become apostles, that we are sent away by our teacher, and perhaps achieve greater things than the examples we try to imitate.

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