When Daniel Ellsberg returns from reporting on the ground in the Vietnam War he is shocked and disillusioned. The truth is clearly out there and not being told. So he breaks into government offices and steals confidential files which document the war years all the way back to the 1940s. What he finds is devastating and when the Washington Post gets hold of the material it intends to publish.
The folks at the Post must wade through pages and pages of these papers, collecting story after story so that they can tell the truth about the war. Journalism is not always about exciting door step encounters, or hard -nosed TV interviewing, much of it requires long hours of hard slog – researching, reading, re-reading and gathering information.
I’m inspired by the gospel writer Luke, and I reckon he was quite a journalist. At the start of his first book he tells us that he has done a lot of research and decided to lay down his account of Jesus, drawing on various eyewitness accounts. He includes details in his book that other gospel writers missed. The lost boy trip to the temple when Jesus was just 12, the stinky shepherds running headlong round Bethlehem waking the neighbours with news of the baby (if the crying hadn’t already woken them up). The taxman out of his tree. The widow and her two minuscule coins which looked so ineffectual at the time and yet have come spinning down the ages to us, gathering weight and momentum as they arrive in our palms, reminding us that it’s not how much you give to God, but how you give it; a poor woman so much richer than the fat cats and their wallet-bulging careless offerings. And, of course, he wrote a whole book that nobody else bothered to lay down. Acts. An epic full of blistering and extraordinary moments. Just as well he did write it otherwise we’d be left with a bunch of clumsy disciples staring up at the sky, wondering when Jesus is coming back and still squabbling over who is the greatest. Not unlike the church today at times.
I wonder if Luke felt on the margins at times, an intelligent man yes, a doctor, but observing life rather than living it. As far as we know he never tried to walk on water, raise the dead, trash the temple, heal on the Sabbath or make Margaux wine out of water. If he did it’s in his secret diary and didn’t make the final cut of the New Testament. Did he feel inadequate? Did he look at fast talking Pete, or honest Tom, or soapbox Paul and wish he had some of their chutzpah? Who knows? What we do know is that the pen is mightier than the sword. It won’t cut off servants’ ears in a garden of betrayal, but it will send a message that will motor down the freeways of time and never run out of gas. Good old journalist Luke, thank God for his gifts, his research, and his willingness to lay it all down; not for his own glory, but for the glory of the One who slips alongside us, waiting to be recognised as we walk our own Emmaus Roads. (Another story that Luke alone laid down.)