Summary: Is your faith totally inward focused or does it have a gospel shaped outward focus as well? Are you one of Jesus disciples so you can serve him or just yourself? Are you not just a disciple but an apostle as well?
Imagine Jesus appeared in Melbourne today and was looking to form a band of disciples. What sorts of people do you think he might look for? People with influence? Media savvy types? University trained professionals? People who are good with words, good at presenting the right image? It’s interesting isn’t it, that that’s the type we often think about when we think about how to present the gospel to the world? What sort of people are invited to join the Archbishop in his BMW Edge breakfast conversations? Who do they invite to speak at the Melbourne prayer breakfast? What sort of people are asked to lead the big churches?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different those people are to those that Jesus chose to be his disciples?
But let me ask you a question that’s a bit closer to home. If Jesus were in Melbourne looking for disciples, would he choose you? Are you the sort of person he might want in his band of followers?
Well, today we’re going to look at this passage from Mark’s gospel and see what sort of people he chooses.
First though we need to understand the context in which we find this passage. We’ve skipped over half a chapter, so let’s catch up. You’ll remember that over the previous two weeks we’ve seen how Jesus comes into Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. He calls his first disciples then proceeds to teach with authority, to drive out evil spirits and to heal many people. It doesn’t take long before people start to wonder who this man could be, who teaches with authority and even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him!
Then last week we saw him not just healing but even presuming to forgive someone’s sins. And when the religious experts complained he showed them up completely by healing the man of his paralysis.
In the bits we’ve skipped over we see the opposition from the Pharisees increasing as Jesus eats with Levi, a tax-collector, allows his disciples to pick heads of grain on the Sabbath and even heals a man on the Sabbath. Each time their accusations are rebuffed and they’re made to look foolish. And so right here at the start of Mark’s gospel we find the Pharisees beginning to plot how to kill Jesus.
And so we come to today’s reading. Mark tells us that Jesus withdrew, (v7) but from where? Well it seems he’s withdrawn from the towns and particularly from the synagogue where the Pharisees and Scribes are found. The religious authorities have rejected him and so he goes to where the ordinary people are, out into the countryside.
The opposition of the Pharisees hasn’t put off the crowd. They flock to hear him and to be healed by him. In fact this withdrawal has a strategic impact. Now people come from all over the countryside, from as far away as Jerusalem and Judea, from the other side of the Jordan and from the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus has moved to an arena where he’s accessible to everyone. And notice the implied criticism that Mark has of the Pharisees. They’re completely blind to who Jesus is while the evil spirits Jesus encounters recognise exactly who he is. They fall down before him and cry out “You are the Son of God.” But Jesus doesn’t want evil spirits as his followers so he commands them to be silent.
Notice though, that neither does Jesus want a popularist following. He has people flocking to hear him, but he doesn’t want them to follow him just because he can heal them or feed them or even free them from the Roman occupation. So after a while he goes withdraws from them. He goes up a mountainside, away from the crowds taking with him just those who are his closest followers. Luke suggests that there are more than just the twelve, but still it’s a select group who are collectively seen as disciples, or followers of Jesus.
He takes them up the mountain and there he calls out the small group that he’s selected; twelve men who will be his apostles, those sent out to proclaim the good news.
And look at who he appoints.
There’s Simon, to whom he later gave the name Peter. His nickname is “Rock” but his behaviour as we go through the gospels is anything but. There’s James and John, nicknamed Boanerges, the sons of thunder. You can imagine what sort of behaviour gave them a nickname like that. They were hotheads, prone to go off the deep end. Then there’s Matthew, or Levi, the tax collector. Not a popular choice among the others you’d think. I mean who wants an enemy collaborator as a follower of someone who claims to be King of the Jews? Then there’s Simon the Galilean. Matthew describes him as a Zealot. That is, a nationalist, dedicated to ridding the country of the Romans. Imagine what he thought of Matthew! And last but not least, there’s Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. You can’t help but think that Mark wants to make it very clear from the start that these are just ordinary human beings with all the failings you’d expect in any group of twelve people.