Mark’s gospel clearly outlines the teachings of being a disciple. However some may insist that the teachings are not relevant in the modern world. Nonetheless modern Christians have used the teachings to follow in the path of the first Christian disciple who faced death as the price. The teachings of being a disciple may make a difference in modern Christians lives through many forms. It may show and demonstrate the necessary qualities needed to gain entry to the kingdom of God and many will learn from the mistakes that Jesus’ disciples made without making the same mistakes themselves.
People may not be able to “go it alone” which means to become a Christian without the aid of the church and the teachings of discipleship may inspire, provide the platform and show modern disciples the way. There are numerous examples of modern day disciples. With people today their lives as disciples may take many forms. Jesus commanded that the good news be spread throughout the whole world and so has been taken up by many Christians. Some feel that they have a vocation, that they have been called to spread the Christian faith as priests, ministers, nuns and monks.
Others believe they can serve Christ in their daily lives as laity, passing the good news to those that they meet. Christian’s missionaries travel to teach about Jesus. Their work may also include building schools and medical centres, helping the suffering from the effects of natural disasters and teaching new skills to developing countries. Many Christians feel compelled to spread the message of God’s love through caring for those who are sick and are in need of medical help, in all areas of the world.
Other Christians devote their lives to fighting injustice and prejudice. They believe that it is their duty to put others before themselves. They feel that it is right to help those who are suffering at the hands of others. Such Christians can be found in organisations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace. There is still a ‘cost of discipleship’. In this story Jesus began to warn the disciples that his work for God would result in his suffering and death. They had to be prepared to suffer for their beliefs and discipleship.
Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will save it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with holy angels”. Really following Jesus to the extent necessary is extremely difficult.
In an increasingly secular society being a Christian means going against the world’s values. Values of materialism and consumerism. Any young person attending church and taking the sacraments in a very public way face ridicule from peers. If we consider the late John Paul II. Despite the high global interest in his death some of his doctrines were unpopular. He remained steadfast in his teachings on contraception, homosexuality and women priests. Whether right or wrong he viewed this as his discipleship and his cost was criticism. The “rewards of discipleship” is seen in the faithful.
In this story Peter has become discontent with his life as a disciple and was particularly disillusioned with the apparent lack of reward for his work we see him voicing his views to Jesus. He said “We have left everything to follow you”. But in turn Jesus adamantly explained that the rewards of discipleship would go on to eclipse everything he had given up in order to follow him. Jesus explained ” I tell you that anyone who leaves home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel will receive much more in this present age.
He will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields- and persecutions as well; and in the age to come he will receive eternal life” Whole hearted followers will struggle with the demands of modern discipleship but will gain comfort and will be at peace with themselves and will have eternal life. This of course is seen through the story of the rich young man. The rich young man approaches Jesus and asks “Good teacher what must I do to receive eternal life? “. Jesus told him you receive eternal life through obeying the commandments.
He in return told Jesus that he had indeed fulfilled this obligation. Jesus looked straight at him with love and said “you need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven, then come and follow me”. When the man heard this gloom spread over his face and he retreated in disappointment as he could not fulfil this request. We see how a person chooses wealth in favour of discipleship. Modern disciples face death without fear as Pope John Paul did. They are secure in their faith of the after life regardless of their suffering.
Modern disciples learn through this teaching that those who dedicate their lives to the spread of the Gospel will be last in life but first in heaven. The ‘Widow at the treasury’ is another important teaching that refers to how Christians will distribute their wealth and themselves. The charity worker who gives up time for work is ‘spending themselves’. If we have little but give fully we are saved. Historically Christians have even given their lives as we learn in Mark’s gospel. Surprisingly I consider Bill Gates as following this teaching; he is one of the richest men in the world but gives a large proportion of his wealth to charity.
He gives millions to charity each year and has pledged to distribute and dedicate all his wealth when he dies to charity and try to limit the amount of poverty worldwide. He is setting an example as a modern day disciple learning the lesson courtesy of the story in Mark’s Gospel called the rich young man. Bob Geldoff and Bono, their time is currency yet they prove their discipleship in their unstinting dedication to 3rd world charity. This however does not de-mean the stamps my great grandmother collects or the clothes she has knitted for many years for the missions. She indeed has little but gives a lot.
In the widow at the treasury we learn of how Jesus regards people who have little but give a huge proportion of their individual wealth to help others. In this story many rich men dropped in lots of money, and a poor old women dropped in “two little copper coins”, worth about a penny. Jesus said “I tell you this poor old widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had- she gave all she had to live on” Then we have the ‘call of the disciples’. In Mark’s Gospel the call was powerful and immediate.
As he walked along the shore Jesus saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them “Come with me, and I will teach you catch people”. At once they left their nets and went with him. He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat getting their nets ready. As soon as they saw him, they left their father in the boat with the hired men and with Jesus. The world now has 1 billion Roman Catholics who have been brought into the church by missionaries like Saint Patrick or modern day disciples in Africa or South America.
These ordinary priests, monks and nuns give up their comforts to “fish men” as was done by the first disciples as seen in Mark’s gospel. Our local curate or parish priest can also be viewed in this way. Their call or vocation is lifelong and increasingly lonely. Yet they are true to the call and teach and lead in our communities. Mark’s gospel also teaches that anybody can be a disciple. Jesus called his disciples ‘Apostles’ meaning people who are sent out for God’s work. A true apostle should be welcome all people, the poor, the sinners, people from other faiths.
Like Jesus, they challenge them to change into people of the Kingdom Of God. In today’s world discipleship can be seen in places like drug rehabilitation. We only have to look at the role of religion in the philosophy of the organisation Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Or the work of priests, nuns and lay ministers in St. Luke’s in Armagh. They look after people who are damaged or who have hurt others. I think also the Church has moved towards other faults- not to covet souls, but to set a Christian example. Again this legacy of Pope John Paul. Modern disciples must also learn from the ‘Mission of the twelve’.
In this story we see Jesus sending the disciples out two by two. He gave them authority to drive out demons and ordered them “Don’t take anything with you on your journey except a stick- no bread, no beggars bag, no money in your pockets. Wear sandals, but don’t carry an extra shirt”. He made it clear to them that if people in a particular area boycotted or disregarded the message they were preaching that they should leave that place immediately. He said “If you come to a town where people do not welcome you or will not listen to you, leave it and shake the dust of your feet.
That will be a warning to them! So they went out and preached to the people to turn away from their sins. They drove out many demons and rubbed olive oil on many sick people and they must work together and trust in God. The must respect the local hospitality and ways of living and give warnings to those who don’t listen. I think a perfect example of this is a Catholic school. Teachers, ancillary staff and pupils work together as Disciples of Christ. The Church leads through the school chaplain. To gain confidence and respect of the students he must attempt to understand and accept the ways of young people today.
To communicate in a way that is accessible to them. Teachers must promote the catholic ethos and warn students about the pitfalls of not behaving in a Christian way. This is obviously similar to the methods used in the mission of twelve. Of course, the modern man and modern world is riddled with mistakes and failures. ‘Peter’s promise and denial’ he said that he would never betray Jesus, “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do! ” When Jesus said to Peter, “I tell you that before the crows twice tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me”.
Peter answered strongly, “I will never say that, even if I have to die with you! ” This story illustrates our humanity and that disciples also made mistakes. It is my view that a good disciple is not perfect but is always willing to improve and aspire to the heights of discipleship that are required. We have all made promises we don’t keep, something as simple as promising to tidy our room. The Church has made many mistakes over the years and again I refer to Pope John Paul who apologised to the Jewish community for the indolence of the church in Nazi Germany.
This leads on to another teaching in ‘Peter’s Denial’. We then see that in Mark’s Gospel, Peter does deny Jesus when questioned about knowing him. He said three times that he didn’t know Jesus, and when he realised what he had done what Jesus had predicted he “broke down and cried”. This was Jesus showing us the path to reconciliation. We can attempt to make right our wrongs. We can tidy that room or apologise and most importantly we should try not to make the same mistake again, as Peter did. Finally we have ‘the commission’ Jesus last appears to the eleven as they are eating.
He is angry with them for not believing in his resurrection but insists they carry on spreading the Gospel. He said “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to the whole human race”. Disciples must spread the “good news”, they must go out and preach, baptise and face difficulty. Traditionally this is the discipleship of the missionary who have travelled to the ends of the world to bring the Good news. I think however, this teaching needs to be re-applied in the modern western world. Instead of relying on the priest, the Church in Ireland is now looking towards ‘lay ministers to spread the ‘good news’.
Falling numbers joining the priesthood has made it difficult for the Church to combat secularism. This is the modern snake and poison and lay people will be the new disciples. The teachings of discipleship in Mark’s Gospel have obviously aided the modern day disciples to the extent that they have followed the same route and have made substantial differences to many peoples lives, just like Jesus intends us to. They have obviously referred to the teachings in Mark’s Gospel and applied the lessons to their own lives.