Often the terms apostle and disciple are used interchangeably, especially when referring to the twelve men whom Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us Jesus chose to be his first missionaries. However, Luke diverges slightly from the others. For him The Twelve are just the first wave of missionaries and he links Jesus’ challenge to go out and bring in the harvest with the call of seventy missionaries. Are they apostles too? Strictly speaking they ought to be because the word ‘apostle’ simply means ‘messenger’ or ‘someone sent out with instructions’, whereas a disciple is an ‘apprentice’, or someone who 'follows' or 'learns' from their teacher.
Clearly The Twelve, and Jesus’ other followers, started out as his apprentices or students, but at some point on their journey he commissioned many of them to become messengers too. This applies, for example, to Mary Magdalene and even to people who never met Jesus during his earthly ministry. Paul was fiercely determined to insist that he too was an apostle. In fact he liked to think of himself as ‘the last of the apostles’. And that idea has stuck. If you weren’t commissioned directly by Jesus to do something you can’t style yourself an ‘apostle’, but we’re all ‘disciples’.
What if we called ourselves ‘messengers’ or ‘missionaries’? The term ‘apostle’ seems then to be a good description of what all disciples are eventually called to be. We have all received the good news ‘for free’ and we should all be prepared to ‘give for free’. The harvest is still plentiful; the labourers are still few. And Jesus still has compassion on the crowds of people in our towns, cities and countryside. Luke is surely right to see this as a challenge extended to other disciples, and not just to a special handful. Our call is to bring spiritual healing - Matthew calls it ‘a cure’ - to those in need.