Twelve is a strange age. Are you a teen? Or not quite? When I was in school, you were in 6th grade, kings of the elementary school. But now, 12 year olds are the little fish in the big pond of Middle School. At Lake Ann, we run a special camp for 6th graders, for 12 year olds, called Jump Start, as though we understand that they need it. Or maybe it’s just to protect them from the 8th graders.
Luke makes generous use of the number 12. Jesus is 12 when he goes to Jerusalem and stays behind to engage with the teachers and “to be about my Father’s business.” He’s old enough and developed enough to function in an adult world. And yet back-to-back miracles in Luke 8 tragically reveal a woman who receives no help after 12 years of treatment from doctors, and a girl who is dying, and is not likely to make it past twelve. On the one hand it seems like a lot; but on the other, not nearly enough.
And so Jesus assembles a key group of disciples, and they are known as “the Twelve.” Who are these guys? The best and the brightest? The few and the proud? Well, not exactly. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God.” Way to go Peter. But you know that Peter and the others often follow their best performances with failures. And so Peter soon categorizes Jesus alongside Moses and Elijah, great men to be sure, but not by any means “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to Him.” And the others start a nice little discussion about which one of them would be the greatest. It would have been more helpful if they could have ferreted out the weakest (Judas Iscariot) just a little bit sooner.
Maybe that’s why it worked out (or, Jesus worked it out) that after the feeding of the 5000, the disciples - those disciples who had earlier complained bitterly to Jesus that there was no way all these people could be fed, and that the resources were simply not available - yes, those twelve disciples were instructed by Jesus to go around and collect all the leftovers. How many baskets filled with extra food? Twelve.
The point of this, then, is that as we follow the Twelve into mission, we must realize that the success of mission did not, and does not depend on us. Our words many times are unclear, and our conduct inconsistent. But God’s mission depends primarily, not on the Twelve - those who have just about arrived, but not really - nor on saints who are at the same time sinners. God’s mission depends primarily on … God.