Absalom Jones vs. Luke

February 18, 2013
Tim Schenck

With the short "Ash Week" behind us, we're plowing ahead into the first full week of Lent Madness 2013. We've already seen some nail biters, some controversy, and some bracket-busting upsets. Today we have the first African-American Episcopal priest facing off against the writer of one of the synoptic gospels.

Some have commented over the past few days, especially in light (no pun intended) of Lucy besting John the Baptist, on the insanity of this little online devotional. This is nothing new around here. We often hear "How in the world could saint XX beat saint YY?"  Of course the whole notion of saints competing against one another is absurd. But just when you get ready to yank your hair out by the roots, remind yourself that it's called Lent Madness, after all, not Lent Sanity. We learn about saints, we advocate passionately for those we particularly connect with, we win some, we lose some, and we're inspired in some way by them all.

As things continue to heat up, don't forget to tell your friends about Lent Madness via social media, email, or even a phone call -- it's never too late to jump into the fray! Oh, and if you're looking to find out when your favorite saint is set to square off, check out the Match-Up Calendar courtesy of Bracket Czar Adam Thomas.

jones-fullAbsalom Jones

Absalom Jones, who would become the first American-born man of African descent to become a priest in the Episcopal Church, was born into slavery in Delaware in 1746. At 16 he was separated from his family and sold to a storekeeper in Philadelphia. Having already taught himself to read as a boy, he learned to write with the help of a clerk in the store and at a night school for blacks run by Quakers.

His owner allowed him to work after hours and keep what he earned. It’s said he often worked until midnight or 1:00 am to raise funds to buy the freedom of his wife, Mary, whom he had married in 1770. Her freedom, attained in 1778, ensured that their children would be free as well. Seven years later, when he was 38 years old, he  had saved enough to buy his own freedom.

During that period, while a member of St. George’s Methodist Church, Jones met his lifelong friend, Richard Allen. Their enthusiasm brought in many black members to the interracial congregation. However, in 1786, white members met and voted that black members must be segregated to the upper gallery. The following Sunday Jones and Allen sat down in church, and, according to James Kiefer, “ushers tapped them on the shoulder during the opening prayers, and demanded that they move to the balcony without waiting for the end of the prayer. They walked out, followed by the other black members.”

The following year Jones and Allen founded the Free African Society to help widows, orphans, and assist those who were newly free to adjust to urban life. Jones saw religious life and social action as going hand-in-hand. Members paid dues that helped support the efforts. Other activities included protesting slavery and lobbying for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act before Congress. They also founded schools and an insurance company.

In 1792 Jones and Allen established the first black church in Philadelphia, St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, and petitioned Bishop William White to allow them to become a parish in the Episcopal Church, having had it with the Methodists. The congregation was admitted to the diocese but banned from participation in Diocesan Convention until 1864, long after its founders’ deaths.

Jones was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802 (though other sources maintain it was in 1804). He was known to be a wonderful orator and an attentive and much-beloved pastor. He died in 1818 at his home in Philadelphia, a free man and treasured child of God.

Collect for Absalom Jones
Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Heidi Shott


If Luke the physician had a specialty, it was probably family medicine. Or perhaps ob/gyn. After all, Luke’s gospel is the only one to report on the pregnancy of Elizabeth, as John leapt in her womb, as well as the details of Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ birth. Matthew, squeamishly, merely reports that Mary “had borne a son.” Luke includes shepherds, angels, mangers, and swaddling cloths, which he probably understood needed regular changing.

There is some conjecture that Luke was a ship’s doctor since he seems familiar with different cultures and comfortable with travel. He journeyed with Paul and Timothy to Macedonia, remaining at Philippi while Paul carried on to Thessalonica, joining up again as Paul headed back on his way to Jerusalem. Paul sends greetings from “Luke, the beloved physician” to the church at Colossae (Col 4:14). Paul was probably writing this from Rome where he was imprisoned, meaning Luke faithfully provided support and friendship through all of Paul’s travails. When Paul wrote “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,” he adds, “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11).

If you thought Paul was the authorial powerhouse in the New Testament, think again. Luke the writer stealthily dominates the New Testament, with his two volume work of Luke-Acts taking up more than 25 percent of the content. It is due to Luke that we know anything at all about the early church beyond Paul’s memos. Among other things (including the stories of Jesus’ birth), Luke gave us the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the story of Zaccheus, the healing of the bent-over woman, Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus, the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Peter’s ministry to the Gentiles, Saul’s conversion, and Paul’s missionary journeys in narrative form.

In addition, it is due in large part to Luke that we believe God’s love through Jesus Christ transcends race, class, and gender, being a gift to all people. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel when Jesus is presented at the temple, Simeon proclaims him “a Light to enlighten the nations,” and at the beginning of Acts, just before Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells the disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

No one knows how Luke died. What are thought to be his remains are buried in Padua, Italy.

In Acts, Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Through his writing and ministry, it would seem no one knew that more deeply than Luke.

Collect for Luke
Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to declare in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church the same love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Laura Toepfer


Absalom Jones vs. Luke

  • Luke (61%, 2,754 Votes)
  • Absalom Jones (39%, 1,788 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,540

Loading ... Loading ...


* indicates required

Recent Posts



171 comments on “Absalom Jones vs. Luke”

    1. Absolom Jones is truly an amazing individual, but I must throw my vote to Luke. He just has had such an impact on the church! As a parish nurse, I find that parishes often celebrate their health ministries on the Sunday closest to St. Luke's day. Ah, the beloved physician! Is there a beloved nurse? I should spend more time reading Holy Men and Women!

      1. Yes. There are at least 2, Florence Nightingale and Sister Constance who nursed the sick in the Memphis yellow fever epidemic. Not sure she was officially a nurse.

    2. I voted for Bishop Absolom and I believe Luke would have also. Luke's message that Jesus came for all Jew, Gentile, Samaratan, black, white, women, and most assuredly children. The idea Bishop Absalom bought the freedom of his wife and himself so his children would be born into freedom was truly a sacrifice of love. I am sorry I had never heard of this Saint until Lent Madness. Thanks.

  1. I'm going with Luke- trying to get pregnant this Lent. Sorry Absalom, if you weren't against the "GYN" I would have gone for you this today 🙂

  2. We need little "I VOTED" stickers in purple to wear and hand out. And how did I miss Lent Madness at General Convention?

    1. Sorry you missed out on Lent Madness at General Convention. Mary Magdalene and her Golden Halo made a special appearance at the Forward Movement display. My husband and I had our picture taken with her and I do believe it was a highlight of our summer!

  3. Absalom Jones was born in Milford, Delaware. Christ Church Episcopal in Milford erected a shrine to Absalom Jones out in the countryside near the site of the remains of the chapel in which it is thought he was baptized. I served Christ Church and led annual pilgrimages to the shrine and held services there in the open air. I love Saint Luke. My vote is for Absalom Jones!

  4. I love, love, love Absalom Jones and what the work he did for God in the Episcopal Church, however, I just couldn't go against Luke in this one. He gave us so much. I just wish he would have included those missing adolescent years....LOL!

  5. The SEC has really put me in a bind today - Absalom Jones has always been at the top of the list of personal heroes. But I must go today with Luke, patron saint of my parish.

  6. It kind of surprises me but I went with Dr. Luke as his theology of God's impartiality laied the foundation for Rev. Jones fantastic ministry.

  7. Luke - because be figured out how to tell the story to people in every nation. He was a missionary, and a huge influence in my life as a missionary, trying to translate the Good News in such a way that those with ears to hear can understand.

  8. My support goes to the native of The First State Absalom Jones. Delaware is proud of his efforts for paving the way to freedom for all African Americans. Also his work for religious freedom.

  9. Luke. The Road to Emmaus is one of my favorite stories, and some of the others mentioned here are big-time, too. Absalom Jones has a great story, though, and again - as usual - I am torn.

    But the Evangelist is a heavyweight - so Luke's my man today.

  10. I enjoyed learning about Absalom Jones very much. He reminds me of one of his contemporaries who I admire very much, a Calvinist pastor, Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), the first African American to serve as pastor of a white congregation starting in 1783. (This was in Vermont.) In our Lutheran tradition, we didn't have an African Amercian pastor until Jehu Jones (1786-1852), a former Episcopalean who beacame a Lutheran in the 1820s and subsequently a pastor in Philadelphia in 1832. As much as I might admire all these men, I had to vote for Luke. When young, I had a hard time believing in a loving God, especially one that could love me. Luke's gospel helped break through that wrong-headedness. His Luke-Acts remains a favorite among all the biblical texts (along with Romans), perhaps because it so effectively does what the church should always seek to do - reach out to the lost, marginalized and wounded. He had a knack for making the Good News real through his words.

  11. Those of us at Kanuga writing icons this week would like to have it known that tradition has Luke painting the first icon of Mary and the baby Jesus. If you see a bunch of votes for Luke coming from this quarter that is the reason. Do love Absalon Jones, though. He was an amazing person.

  12. I voted for Absalom Jones because his candidacy to wear the coveted Golden Halo could easily be overshadowed by the fact we are in Year C of the lectionary and are reminded of Luke's saintly contributions on Sunday when the Gospel is proclaimed. Black History month in February is an attempt by the world outside of Lent Madness to raise awareness of the importance and impact of the contributions made by African-Americans. Those contributions seem minimized or even forgotten the other 11 months of the year. It would send a strong signal to that world if the voters who participate in Lent Madness continue the candidacy of Absalom Jones into March.

    1. Couldn't agree more here - I am a physician and love my patron beyond most other saints, but given the esteem with which we in the Church now and historically hold white men over all else, gotta go with Absalom. Luke and the early Christians surely modeled in part the oppressed standing up against the oppressors, but Absalom's story informs our contemporary struggles in a way that Luke can't. In truth, I think Luke might like to lose.

      1. Do you really think Luke was a white guy? My guess would be that the Bible is full of people of darker color than white. I refuse to vote based solely on color or gender, and honestly haven't decided yet about today's challenge.

        1. An excellent reality check, to be sure, but as long as we continue to represent Luke as a bearded Greek white guy and claim him as part of our white heritage, he's a white guy, yes. And I'm not voting for Absalom because he's black, but because he is such an informative example of courage in standing up for liberation for our own time. No disrespect to my patron, who I had a tough time voting against, but what we know about Luke is mostly conjecture from writings and we seem to be valuing him based on theological contributions. Social justice and acting for what's right weighs more than theology and thinking about who God might be for me any day.

  13. Absalom Jones will remain the personal role model for all who have fought the good fight for the right to have true membership in the Episcopal Church. He will not win this contest but he will still be a winner in the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised. Richard Allen never remained there but helped found the AME Church and became it's first bishop. Which Iggy won?

    1. I voted for Absalom Jones because I felt he fought an uphill battle and was good to women to where he worked and paid for her freedom before his...and also sought after a charitable purpose for those who were fighting the same uphill battle...leading God's people forward...

    2. Amen! They are ALL winners. I'd have liked to see him go further than this so I could have learned more, but Luke is a heavy hitter. Besides, I think there might be some voter backlash going on with the Lucy/John the Baptist upset.

  14. I am just reading "Team of Rivals" and feel like I should support Absalom Jones who worked for freedom of the slaves.

    1. And Jones and Richard Allen also led the nursing of those who came down with yellow fever in Philadelphia. Many others left the city, but Benjamin Rush and many free blacks remained in 1793 to nurse the afflicted. An amazing Christian witness, especially since Jones commented on the horrible behavior of many who remained during that time.

  15. My first time @ a match, but Rev Jones came from behind @ the buzzer. Luke was ahead most of the game, but being born in privilege, Luke didn't have to fight his way up the ranks. So, Jones had the stamina to pull it out in triple overtime. I was on Luke's team, so I was beat by the end of the match. As we say in the Cleveland area, wait til next year. 😉

  16. Full disclosure: I have Luke winning the Golden Halo this year, so won't vote against him (not true for any of my other picks!) The write-up on Absalom was terrific, Heidi!

  17. So, having Luke defeat Rev. Absalom Jones during Black History Month, right after his feast day is a crime against all that is meet and right.... just my opinion.

  18. I immesely respect Abasolom Jones and his liberating work against racism and sexism. Luke's Gospel and understanding of Jesus is the Word that God used to beckon me back to The Church and ministry. Luke's parables and stories are a principle source of the Lord's light that shone and shine upon Abaslom and many other Saints.

      1. And another 5 for 'immesely'?

        I apologize if this sounds snarky -- I meant in the same spirit as Jim's own self-correction.

  19. This was an UNFAIR match-up, you know. Martin vs. Martin makes sense, having Absalom against anyone but a Gospeller on Ash Wednesday would have made sense; this hot mess, I don't think this makes any sense, except to set the brother up to fail, during BLACK HISTORY MONTH. C'mon Son!

  20. I went with Absalom. The road he traveled and the day-in, day-out perseverance required of him tipped the scale for me. (Though I love Luke almost as much as James.)

  21. Sometimes it's the small, seemingly random things. Had to vote for Absalom Jones today, in honor of the baby who got called a name on a plane. Utterly mind-boggling to me that anyone still thinks that way, even drunk.

  22. So, so hard to decide today! Finally went with Luke. The Evangelist's two volume work so foundational for all that came after I felt he had to be recognized first. Through him so many others were able to discern the faith and knowfor sure that all are welcome in the Kingdom. But I do love and honor Absalom Jones!

  23. Luke gets my vote today. Luke's view of Jesus helps to give me a more complete
    view of Jesus. Luke is the healer.