The nature of discipleship in Mark’s Gospel

I will first look at how Jesus called the disciples and what this tells us about the choices of Jesus and the qualities that were needed to become one of Jesus’ disciples. I will also look at how the disciples responded to Jesus’ calling to them and what challenges they were to face being a disciple of Jesus.

The choices that Jesus made were rather odd, they were not wealthy men or influential in the Jewish society. Jesus began the search for his disciples by calling four fishermen with a promise “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men”. Peter, Andrew, James and John all had the same response; they left everything they had without questioning Jesus. They left all the luxuries they had such as: their wives and families, money, homes, jobs and everything else they owned. These men were used to living a good way of life, but had little influence in Jewish society. Next he called Levi (Matthew), the tax collector, who left all the riches he had from his job and the ones he stole from the people of the town.

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He went with Jesus without questioning him as did Peter, Andrew, James and John.

Jesus chose twelve whom he named apostles, he was on the top of a hill from were he called the twelve men that he had chosen to be his apostles. The twelve men went up to the top of the hill, and he said to them: “I have chosen you to be with me. I will also send you out to preach, and you will have authority to drive out demons.”(Mark 3:14-15). The twelve disciples he chose were: Simon (Jesus gave him the name Peter), James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee (Jesus gave them the name

Boanerges that means Sons of thunder), Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. When Jesus chose these men he didn’t choose them only to follow him but to be his friends too. He wanted them to be close to him and to learn from him. They were called for three main reasons:

* To be trained for the task of sharing in Jesus’ mission.

* To be the first group of followers who would bring others into the community.

* To be the ones to continue Jesus’ mission after he had gone.

Jesus gave the twelve disciples three tasks: 1. Preach, 2. Exorcism and 3. to be his companions. Jesus ordered the disciples to go do these tasks but they weren’t to take: any other clothes than what they were wearing, any money and their beggars bag.

They were only allowed to take a stick to help them when they walk, the set of clothes they had on and their sandals. They were given part of Jesus’ authority from God and they were to accept any hospitality that was offered and leave if they were not welcome, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust of your feet.”(Mark 6:10-12)

The story of the call of Jesus’ first disciples contains a number of important points.

* Jesus called them individually. His great power and charisma drew them

to him.

* Their response was immediate. They stopped what they were doing and, without discussion, followed him.

* Jesus told them that he would help them to be ‘fishers of men’. They would bring people into the family of God.

* The story is an important reminder for Mark’s readers that discipleship may mean leaving everything behind to follow the Christian way of life. God’s call is more important that anything else.

The fact that Jesus chose twelve disciples may be symbolic. In the Old Testament Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the Jewish faith, had twelve sons. They became the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. By choosing twelve disciples, Jesus may have been suggesting that God had sent him for all the Jewish people. Jesus did not choose wealthy or influential men to be his disciples.

Jesus instructed the twelve men to go in two’s and with the authority they were given from Jesus and sent them out to do the work that he had already told them to do before. Mark has described in his Gospel a typical wandering preacher of his own time when he includes this instructions.

When anyone decided to follow Jesus, they became part of a new family. Jesus claimed as his family, any who followed God’s way as he said “Whoever does what God wants him to do is my mother, my sister, my brother.”(Mark 3:33)

One of the things that Jesus tried to teach the disciples was that God’s work did not depend on their own human strength. Jesus showed them what they should do to rely upon God, at the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples first of all ask if they should buy bread but Jesus; took the bread (five loaves), looks up to heaven and gives thanks to God. Then the bread becomes more than plentiful for everyone. This demonstration given by Jesus showed the disciples that the feeding was God’s work, and they were to be his followers, his workmen, and his disciples.

Besides the twelve men who were chosen by Jesus as their apostles, there were also people that had silent callings from God. The story of The Rich Young Man is a silent calling because the young man approaches Jesus himself he wasn’t called by Jesus. The young man asked what he had to do to get eternal life, Jesus told him about the commandments and he said that he had kept them since he was a boy. Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor, the mans face fell and went away sad. (Mark 10:17-23)

Another silent calling from God was the one were a widow who had very little to live on gave what she had to were the offering were put. Many rich people threw in large amounts, but the poor widow went to put in two very small copper coins. Jesus said to his disciples “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. They all gave out their wealth but she gave out of her poverty.” (Mark 13:41-44)

These two silent callings are very different. The young man isn’t able to do what Jesus asks him because he is greedy and his life is overrun by wealth. But the poor old widow gives all that she has to the offerings, which shows great faith in God.

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowed, were leaving Jerico there was a blind man begging and when he had heard that Jesus was there he began to shout “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” many told him to be quiet but he shouted more. Jesus stopped and said, “Call him”. So they called him and Jesus asked him what he wanted. The man said “I want to see”. Jesus then said “Go. Your faith has healed you.” (Mark 10:46-52)

The twelve men who were chosen by Jesus were to have a life with many challenges to overcome from God. The first challenge they were encountered with was to give everything up, to trust Jesus when he told them he was the Son of God, to follow him to spread the good news of the lord and to be prepared to face persecution for what they believe in.

The disciples grow into a fuller understanding of who Jesus is, but it is not surprising that through their challenges they frequently misunderstand what it means to be a follower of this new Messiah. Some of them would have found it much easier to follow the popular belief of a warrior Messiah who would overthrow the Romans.

James and John are a good example of the misunderstanding of the disciples. James and John asked Jesus if they might have seats on his right and left hand side in the kingdom. They misunderstood Jesus, he always told that a disciple must have the attitude of a servant. These two still had the popular idea of the Messiah as a conquering King, and saw themselves as victorious warriors of the Messiah. Jesus told them “If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, he must be slave of all. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” (Mark 10:43-46) the important lesson, which the disciples were very slow to learn, was that there would be no particular status attached to following Jesus. The disciples had to learn that they would be treated no better than their master.

Simon later known as Peter, has an important position among the disciples in Mark’s Gospel. He is the first and the last disciple to be mentioned, and his name occurs 25 times. Peter seems to have been the spokesman for the disciples. For example, it was Peter who:

* Answered for the group when Jesus asked them who they thought he was (Mark 8:27-30)

* Questioned the need for Jesus’ suffering and death (Mark 8:31-33)

* Offered to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain of the Transfiguration.

* Followed Jesus after his arrest when the other disciples ran away (Mark 9:2-8)

* Suffered greatly after denying that he knew Jesus.

Peter had to accept Jesus’ idea of Messiah ship, because Peter always had power in his mind and Jesus always said that he was sent to serve not to be served but Peter didn’t understand, and discipleship it is also to serve and it has nothing to do with power.

Jesus began to them that the son of man must suffer and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must die and rise after three days. He spoke this plainly about this, and peter took this aside and began to rebuke him. Jesus looked and began to rebuke him “Get behind me Satan!” he said “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Peter could not understand that this was what Jesus mission was and God had sent him to do this.

He looked for rewards all the time for example in the parable of The Rich Young Man Jesus tells the young man to sell everything he has to go into the kingdom of God but the young man’s life is dominated by money and Jesus tells them ” Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”

The disciples were amazed and Jesus explained “With man this is impossible, but not with God” Peter then felt that they had given everything up and didn’t know if they were going to go to the kingdom of God. Jesus then explained that those who had given everything up for him would be rewarded. Peter exclaimed “We have left everything to follow you!” Jesus then said “No-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come, eternal life. but many who are first will be last, and the last first.”(Mark 10:17-31) Jesus tells Peter that he shouldn’t think of rewards all the time because in the Kingdom of God he will be rewarded by God.

At Jesus’ last supper, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial but Peter continuously said that he would never disown him.” For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Peter insisted emphatically “before the cock crows twice your self will disown me three times.” (Mark 14:27-30)

That was the night that Jesus was arrested and Peter in the courtyard and one of the servants said that he was with Jesus. Peter denied it (the cock crowed once), the servant repeated that he was with Jesus but again he denied it, then the people around were saying that he had to be because he was Galilean. Peter began to call down curses on himself. Immediately the cock crowed the second time, he remembered what Jesus had told him about disowning him.

When Peter saw the suffering of Jesus, his courage and his faith in Jesus failed him, and he denied any knowledge of him, and Mark gives some comfort to Christians who had weakened under the Roman persecution of the early Church.

Matthew had to not only leave all his riches but his past, Jesus brought him into the group that was mainly Jewish. He had to forget about all his past culture. But it wasn’t very easy because the other disciples still saw him as the social outcast who was hated by the Jewish people because of his work with the Romans, because the tax money went to the Romans. So Matthew had to change to be accepted between the other disciples.

The rich young man was given a challenge by Jesus to receive the eternal life but he does not succeed to complete the challenge. He had to sell everything to show that his life wasn’t controlled by money but he failed.

The poor widow had to give all she had to the offerings for God, who unlike the rest of the rich people didn’t have anything else to live on. Her faith was very strong.

It is important to understand that being a Christian does not mean to accepting a life of misery and constant suffering. Quite the opposite is true, as can be seen in the words of Jesus in the parable of The Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-31) Peter asked Jesus how he and the other disciples would be rewarded for following him.

Jesus teaches that those who whole-heartedly decide to follow a Christian way of life will be rewarded many times over. Christians feel that, by following the example of Jesus, their lives are enriched. A close relationship with God, and the community, are among the rewards of discipleship. But the greatest reward of all for Christians is Jesus’ promise of eternal life.

The first Christians supported each other like brothers and sisters. When they became Christians it was as though they had gained a new family. There were great joys and great sorrows attached to being a Christian. Their treasure was in heaven, and they could look forward to everlasting life, even if the Romans could destroy them in large numbers on earth.

True discipleship is not something that can be done in a half-hearted way. To Christians, this means giving up everything in the service of God and of others. This is clearly explained in the story of the widow at the treasury. Jesus praises the widow because she gave more than everyone else to God. Her offering was very small, but it was all that she had. The rich gave offerings that were money they probably had to spare.

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