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

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171 comments on “Absalom Jones vs. Luke”

  1. I am deeply thankful for Luke, and we wouldn't be who we are without him, but Absalom Jones is just so compelling. Gotta go with him.

  2. I LOVE Absalom Jones. Everything about the man makes me want to Lift Every Voice and Sing. But I voted for Luke, after much trying not to. Jones is an American Saint; Luke be belongs to the world. Without Luke, Absalom would have had no compelling message besides Justice. He built well, but Luke laid the Foundation.

  3. Oy veh! Since when do tournament brackets automatically pit equally weighted competitors (remember all the Cinderella stories in that other "Madness"?)? That being said, I think all of us in the communion of saints are "equally weighted/valued), so...while I love Luke and his Gospel (and Acts), I'm going with Absalom Jones. I was sponsored for ordination by a smaller African-American congregation in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and Historic Saint Thomas Church and Absalom Jones' memory were greatly cherished there.

  4. I live in Philadelphia where Absalom Jones casts a long shadow. St. Thomas African Episcopal Church is about ten minutes from me and is still one of the most vibrant parishes in the diocese. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen are among the bravest people we commemorate from America and I respect them. They surely took encouragement and inspiration from the Gospels to do what they had to do. But without the Gospels, and dare I say their authors, how would they even have known about Jesus? Christmas, the Nunc Dimittis, the Benedictus Dominus Deus, Pentecost, not to mention a wealthy vocabulary - all these things were brought to you by Luke. God bless you Absalom, you are an American hero . But Luke the Evangelist, you get my vote today.

    1. I am glad I read your full post. It went 180 from the first sentence. I agree with you points 100%. Yea Luke!

  5. Don't count Absalom Jones out. Historically (Mary M being the exception) people who show up in the Bible don't do so hot in Lent Madness, so Luke is fighting an uphill battle, even if he is leading at the moment.

    1. Our Episcopal sense of justice comes out clearly in Lent Madness voting - hence the underdog often wins. It is the best part of Lent Madness to learn about or to be reminded of Ignatius of Antioch, Macrina the Younger, and Absalom Jones. Still, I am not sure that voting for the lesser known is truly "fair" especially in the case of our dear and glorious physician Luke. His words are the anchor for many of the most basic tenets and stories of our faith. I think of him as more journalist than the other authors of the Gospels. There is a reason we call him the Evangelist, though many Episcopalians aren't fond of the concept. It is through his faithful witness that many came - and still come - to the faith.

  6. This is an agonizing choice! Luke is my favorite Gospel. But I have to go for the hometown boy. I am proud to be in a diocese that claims Absalom Jones.

  7. Absalom rocks! Although I would not consider this a fair pairing - Luke is a heavy weight paired w/ a relative unknown but in the end Absalom's story moved me to vote for him.

  8. Well, being a subversive, if Luke wins, I will enter Absalom Jones on the bracket in the church hallway anyway. I'm just obstinate that way. However, I will NOT stoop to voting more than once, as tempting as it may be!

  9. Despite being a Philadelphian, went with Luke, mainly because of my teacher Tim Luckritz
    -Marquis, who showed me the wonders of Luke/Acts.

  10. My wife may be voting later today from the same computer I voted on this morning. Please don't consider this fraudulent, even though we do attend St. Luke's Church . . .

  11. I was hoping somebody would ref Star Wars. Love Luke, but I'm voting for Absalom. Not only for his preaching, but also because of a sermon by Edwin Johnson+ about the challenge of worshipping in the slave-owners church, preached in memory of Absalom.

  12. Luke is a sentimental favorite, but in the interest of modeling all that can be achieved for God and the world by those we perceive as powerless, I have to go with Absalom.

  13. Come on, all Luke did was wrote a book, admittedly a very good book, but his labour was research and writing. Absolom suffered oppression for years, and was faithful even when the Church spit in his face. And; more in the spirit of Lent Madness, he had way better hair.

    1. Woa...hold on. I agree Absalom suffered greatly and is wonderful, but don't disparage Luke. He was on missionary journeys with Paul, and we know those were fraught with trials and oppression by Jews and Gentiles alike. At the inception of the Christian church, the Jews considered themselves still Jews, which is why Paul went to synagogues. Luke faced oppression from his "Church". He also didn't have the internet or even the public library to do research. He had to collect oral accounts and possibly written accounts that were floating around. Writing materials were expensive, so he poured lots of money, time, and sweat into this project. I believe one of the beautiful aspects of his writings is that he ignores the sacrifices that he made to write. He was truly a godly man who went against the Roman government and the Jewish "church" because he believed that a lowly carpenter was the Messiah.

  14. Here in polyglot Southeast Floida, how could I not vote for Luke, who insisted on the universality of the Good News! Also, as a world-class hypochondriac, I really appreciate a saint with medical training.

  15. I have enormous admiration and respect for Absalom but gotta go with Luke. He is the reporter of the many intimate events,details of Jesus' birth for example, and teaching how the gospel was spread via the Acts of the Apostles. Who knows how much of Absolom's faith is based on what Luke shared.
    PS I'll buy the stickers

  16. ANY match-up of saints would be unfair -- that's what puts the Madness in LM! Had to go with Luke because of all the detailed accounts he gave us, especially the Prodigal Son, which is particularly dear to my heart, although I am humbled by the story of Absalom Jones' life and ministry.

    1. Argh! This is not Lenten Sanity but Lenten Madness for sure!!! Who to vote for?! While pulling out my hair I have been prayerfully discerning who to support. Luke or Absalom? Well I had to take the plunge and I voted for.....

    2. Thanks for highlighting this.
      Talk about a lived understanding of redemption, eh? Literally "paying the price" for someone else's freedom.

  17. I'm pondering the painful irony: centuries after Luke records Peter's revelation that God is 'no respecter of persons' and James admonishes against segregated seating, two godly men are tapped out of the congregation in the middle of a prayer. I'm thankful for how far we've come, we've got a ways to go yet, I'm thankful for Luke, and I voted for Absalom Jones.

    1. Exactly! If we truly believe that scripture is the Living Word, then there is a chapter in the Book of Acts written already about Absalom Jones. Saying, "without Luke there is no Absalom" just defeats the whole thing - might as well just write "God" into every line on the Bracket. It's not a chicken or egg thing, I'm just sayin'. Absalom gets my vote as the first to truly enfranchise a group of people who are still largely disenfranchised. Without Absalom, there is no Civil Rights movement.

      1. Hear, hear! I think that your vote shouldn't be about who inspired St. X, it's about who inspires you. CLEARLY, we love these saints, and Lent Madness voting is not a value judgement on them as individuals. It's just for fun. Until today I had only heard of the name Absalom Jones, I didn't know his story. There have been excellent cases made on both sides. Hopefully the force, I mean...the Holy Spirit, will guide my finger faithfully to the right button.

  18. such a tough way to start the day here on the Left Coast. Voted Luke...but it took a second cup of espresso to get there. It came down to Luke 9: 57-62 for me.
    With my hand on the plow...Michael C.

  19. What a choice? As a hospice chaplain and a Deacon, my heart is torn on this. Absolom Jones clearly had the heart of a Deacon. St. Luke embodies what medical care and hospice is all about. Have to vote for St. Luke, only because his words have influenced so many over the millenia.

  20. Well, obviously, there is no saint who is unworthy of a vote. I voted for Luke, even having lived in Philadelphia, even having become an Episcopalian there more than 30 years ago. Luke's body of work simply demands it.

    And everyone who was touting Acts during convention last summer, do recall that, please.

  21. I'm going with my homey--Absalom Jones! He was the first Black man to be ordained into the Church in Philadelphia, PA, by the way. I do believe his ordination had a "small" rippling effect; if you remember, in 1974, 11 women were also ordained in Philadelphia. Absalom Jones was the one of the first signs in the USA that the EC's doors are opened to all people.