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 echo the it's a difficult choice comments.
    St. Luke is, well St. Luke and of course deserves accolades and votes and thanks, etc., however, as a person who changed the United States and the Episcopal Church, both for the better and did it in a non-violent way, Jones has much to say to me and to us today.
    My vote is for him, with no disregard at all for St. Luke.

  2. Tough choice. I've lived in Delaware and admire Jones and his courage. In the end I went with Luke for the Benedictus and Magnificat.

  3. Is it wrong that when I read that Luke might have been a ship's doctor, I picture Adam Bricker? Or that I find that a strangely compelling point in Luke's favor? Still torn, though, on which way to toss my hat... Saint or the man who bought his wife's freedom before his own?

  4. Absalom is admirable, and purchasing his wife's freedom before his own gets extra points, but without Luke we wouldn't have the account of the Road from Emmaus... and that tips the scale for me. (In another pairing, I think Absalom might have taken it, though).

  5. Heather, I thought exactly the same thing...if Luke is ship's doctor, what more appropriate ship than the Love Boat? Love and admire Absolam, but had to vote Luke.

  6. Leonard (aged 8) cast the family vote for Luke because without him we would n't know as much about Jesus and Mary. (But we are deeply impressed by Absolom Jones and on another day....)

  7. While Rev. Laura makes a very good case for Luke (and I learned a lot about him from her bio), Absalom Jones gets my vote. A man who would buy the freedom of--redeem--his wife and children before his own is an amazing example of selflessness.

  8. Per Father Tim's introduction, I think the real question might be "How in the world could saint XX defeat saint XY?"

  9. At first blush, I was all in for Luke. Upon reflection, we can say with certainty that Absalom lived a saintly life. All we can say with certainty about Luke is that he was a great chronicler of of Jesus and Paul. I surprised myself and voted for Absalom.

  10. As a retired RN & member of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church I voted for Luke. I love his stories. Absalom Jones is a worthy opponent and his life and actions are inspirational. So I will vote for Luke and learn from his stories about Jesus and how to love. And I will try to be like Absalom in standing for social justice. With God's help on both!

  11. In September, my son was diagnosed and initially treated for liver cancer at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston TX, and the caring, committed staff showed me the continuing influence of the Great Physician's physician. Absalom Jones is a great witness to God's gift of freedom in spite of outward circumstances, but St. Luke has my heart and my vote today. (BTW, my son received a liver transplant at Texas Children's Hospital last month, and is recovering well. Thanks be to his generous donor and family, and through them to God. Are all of you signed up to be organ donors?)

  12. Luke all the way. He understands the needs of all nations. He is able to communicate the Good News to young and old. I grew up loving the story of Zaccheus and I still do. It made Christ real to me.

  13. Look, Luke's great and after John, he's one of my next three favorite gospel writers. But Absalom Jones gets my vote. He represents an element that I appreciate about the Episcopal Church ... we may move too slowly, much of the time, but we do move! With Richard Allen, Jones represents an important period of change in our church.

  14. I am sure Luke would be the first to recognize how his teachings have shaped my values and why I vote for Absolom, blossom, fruit and seed of the gospel, instead of writer of the gospel... Jesus himself noted that those who come after us will do greater things than we. Ok so he said, me, but I'm sure he would agree with the we, ... But I do appreciate all the loyalty to Luke the physician... as well as the gospel writer.

  15. I was stumped on this one, but went for Luke, thinking that without Luke, perhaps Absalom would not have heard the Gospel in the same way and not been inspired to do the brave, selfless things he did. I am grateful that both inspire our faith.

  16. If I remember the account correctly (which is a big IF), Jones was denied admission to General during his lifetime. After a recognition of General's prejudice and Jones' impact in the church for dignity and justice, an icon was commissioned, which now hangs in the sanctuary of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at GTS. So, General grads, Absalom watched over you for your seminary years. Will you return the favor?

  17. I voted for Luke but must admit Absalom's life story truly inspired me for the continuing call to justice for all children of God.

  18. A gentle observation/reminder: Leave the word FAIR out of your deliberations. This is a simple, uncomplicated contest and fairness has nothing to do with it. Vote for whomever you wish and leave the issue of fairness and what I see as excuses based on a little, shall we say, guilt for not voting for AJ????? Free country, folks! Go with the flow and choose whomsoever you will and want! Okie, Dokie? And none of your beeswax about my choice!!Ha! Ha!Ha! Suze Cate..where are you?

    1. As we read, people are going to vote the way they feel. I have seen people rooting for women for similar reasons, in fact I have been contacted on different lists about rooting for women. Oddly, this is the first time I have read someone offer such a gentle reminder/observation. In my opinion this is an unfair match up and brings up issues of tact, if not timing. If we don't mention such things then they are ignored, often out of ignorance and no one wants that, right? At least next time, some thought would be given about the match-ups that will consider cultural streams. (Perhaps if the Yellow Fever epidemic had been mentioned in the bio the healing thing could have been played up . . . .)