by Michael Ellard
Today we celebrate the life of St. Luke, Gospel writer and Evangelist, a person who wanted to share with others the importance of knowing Jesus in their lives. But when we mention the word ‘Evangelist’ most of us will probably think of the stranger who rings the front door bell at the most inappropriate time, and wants to talk about ‘Jesus,’ on our doorstep. Unfortunately this image can then cast the role of evangelism into the wrong light, for sharing the Gospel message with others, in ways best suited to us individually, is an important part of the work Jesus asks us all to do. We don’t think instead, of the friend or colleague who is happy to explain their faith to us in a personal way in the course of day to day conversation, as many of us will probably experienced
So how do we overcome the prejudices on this subject, and possibly our feelings of inadequacy to do this work, that our reading brings us to reflect upon today? Certainly we need to be honest with ourselves, and decide whether we are ‘an upfront person’ who is happy to talk to strangers or crowds of people, perhaps like ‘Billy Graham’ or others like him, or do our gifts lie in a more personal approach, talking with people individually. Perhaps our role is one of being supportive to those who can be more upfront as we all grapple with this task.
But not taking the ‘upfront’ role, should not be seen as any form of failure, for Jesus now explains that the supportive role is equally as important, as we hear how he is sending the seventy two appointed disciples out in pairs. Two people working together can be very supportive to one another, sharing their different gifts, and being able to encourage one another through the challenges and difficult times that the role of spreading Christ’s message in a disinterested world can cause.
As we begin look at this passage more closely though, we notice that Jesus appoints those people he has called together to do this work., and we see, that unlike many choices we make in our daily lives, becoming an Evangelist is a role Jesus guides us to consider, before then endorsing that role we take on for him. ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’.
That role is one that brings people to hear Jesus’ words for themselves, with no pressure to respond then, but to consider what they hear, and then decide how they wish to respond to his invitation to follow him in their lives.
In celebrating Luke’s role as one of the great Evangelists of the New Testament, we might be surprised to find that unlike Paul, Luke, was not a great ‘upfront person’, but one who preferred to work through personal contact with friends and people he already knew. He was a scholar, a Greek, and a Physician, and a great companion of Paul, with whom it is thought he travelled widely.
As we open Luke’s Gospel, or the Books of the Acts we notice he starts both books as if writing a letter to his friend Theophilius. He quickly says what he is writing about, explaining he has both researched and examined the words of Jesus in great detail, and is satisfied about their accuracy. Evangelism must be founded on truth if we are to bring Christ’s message to those wider audiences than just ourselves in our church communities. We can’t bend or exaggerate the facts to create more appeal, or emphasis particular stories just because we understand their meaning more than the more difficult passages we encounter. Above all, we need to be honest about those things we too find hard to understand or perhaps follow, if those listening are to take us seriously.
Luke’s more personal style of evangelism did not limit its ability to reach others though, or was it less effective than a more ‘upfront style’. friend Theophilius, to whom he was writing was thought possibly to be Luke’s sponsor, and he was a man of importance able to have Luke’s writing copied and circulated to others outside his own circle. So like Paul, Luke’s message was reaching out far beyond that initially thought possible by just a letter to a friend, and this should give us encouragement in the ways we can work today in these ‘lock down’ times to spread the teaching of Jesus at this time.
Evangelism, bringing people into contact with Jesus, may not be for us all, but we can take an active supportive role, if being ‘upfront’ appears too daunting.