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At the mention of the word "disciple", the image most people conjure up is that of a faithful pupil, a person more than willing to follow the teachings of their leader without question. However, the early disciples didnít always conform to this stereotype. In fact, they sometimes showed a complete lack of faith, finding it extremely hard to accept Jesusí word in their hearts.
Jesus appointed twelve disciples to symbolize each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In doing so, it were as if he were replacing the Old Judaism with his new covenant. This symbolized a new, more personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ.
In choosing his apostles, Jesus showed us that the call is open to all of us, as his chosen twelve all had a different trade, and led varying ways of life. With such a mixed group, it is no wonder there were a few differences of opinion. A good example is the relationship between Simon the Zealot, and Matthew the tax collector. While Zealots were political freedom fighters, tax collectors were the hated collaborates of the Romans. Therefore you can imagine that tax collectors and zealots, if left to their own devices, were normally sworn enemies. However, Matthew and Simon still managed to live relatively peaceful lives together, putting into practice the commandment "love thy neighbor as thyself". They were called, and rose to the challenge of that call by their commitment to respond.
It was not necessary to posses any special quality to be a disciple of Jesus, and they were all of them far from perfect. Take Peter for example. He wasnít particularly quick-witted. In fact, he often had trouble grasping the message Jesus was trying to get across, as shown in the Parables, where in the Parable of the Sower, (Mk 4:1-9), he found it no easier then the rest of the disciples to understand Godís message. Neither did he have unquestionable faith. He demonstrates this (as did the other disciples) when they were all in a boat together with Jesus in the middle of Lake Galilee on a particularly stormy night. He and the other disciples became so frantic with worry that they decided to wake Jesus (who was sleeping peacefully with his head on a pillow) (Mk 4:35-41) . Surely, if you cannot feel safe when you have the Son of God asleep in the same boat as you, you never will! Another example of Peter displaying a serious lapse of faith is when he denied Jesus three times, even after as we learn in Mark, chapter 8, taking part in the wholly religious experience of the Transfiguration. Despite all these faults however, and many more, he was still appointed as the first Pope of the Roman Catholic church, and eventually ended up dying for his beliefs (Acts of the Apostles).
At that time, this was not unusual, as many Christians were being persecuted for their beliefs. A man named Mark soon realized that in order to keep the Christian faith alive and strong, he would have to write the Gospel down. However, Markís Gospel is not a biography. He did not include every minor detail, but only the points about Jesus that he thought were helpful for his community to cope with persecution. For this reason, I will be using Markís Gospel as reference material throughout this essay, and also because there is a sense in which Markís gospel, with the intention of giving testimony to the Good News, also provides a really effective teaching manual for his early church readership.
I have already shown that from Markís Gospel we learn that the call to discipleship is open to all, in Christís broad selection of people and personalities -- ranging from fiery, hard working fishermen, to a tax collector and a political agitator. Mark also shows his readers that a Ďcrisis of faithí is okay. After all, if Peter provides the model we all need to remember (as did those poor persecuted early Christians) is that it was Peterís persevearance that pulled him through. His heart was in the right place, and he didínt give up!
Markís Gospel therefore provides a great deal of information that teaches us about the nature of discipleship, so from reading it we can also choose to respond (or not) to what we learn about the meaning of being a disciple of Christ.
The disciples found it incredibly hard to understand that their job was to build the Kingdom of God here on Earth. Most of them had a vision of Jesus as a type of warrior king, a knight in shining armour who would lead them to battle to finally free them from Roman rule. They failed to understand that Jesusí kingdom was based on love, and not on power or greatness. By far the worst offenders were James and John, sons of Zebedee. We learn, in Mark Chapter 10, that they came to Jesus and told him "there is something we want you to do for us." When Jesus asked "What is it?" they replied "When you sit on your throne in your glorious Kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one at your right and one at your left." So Jesus called his disciples together and told them "If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant to the rest, and if one of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and give his life to redeem many people." Jesus demonstrated all this by taking a child and stating to his disciples "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Jesus uses a child as an example, as they are trusting and open minded, the qualities needed for a good disciple. Small children also understand the concept of love better than that of war, meaning we should all become as innocent and open minded as little children to enter the Kingdom of God. However, as people grow older, they lose these crucial qualities, and the disciples were no exceptions.
Gradually, the disciples had to start learning to rely on God alone. They were told by Jesus on their journey to spread the word of God to not "take anything with you on your journey except a stick, no bread, no beggarís bag, no money in your pocket. Wear sandals, but donít carry an extra shirt." (Mk ch 6:6b-13). Forbidding them to take a begging bag reduced the temptation of collecting money dishonestly. (This is a further indication that the disciples were as suceptible to temptation as the rest of us.) They needed to be aware of the great importance and urgency of the journey, and therefore if they are made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in any house, they are instructed to "shake the dust of your feet when you leave it." This mission required much faith, but then again their faith must have been very strong if they had already "left their nets and followed him," or "left father Zebedee in the boat with hired men." Needless to say, they didnít literally get up and follow Jesus as soon as he asked them to. It is more likely they would have admired Jesus and his way of life beforehand, and not just begin to show an interest when he said "Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." The reason Mark makes it seem that way in his Gospel is because he is trying to underline just how much charisma Jesus had, and how much faith the disciples had. James and John even left their obviously wealthy father with "hired hands", as they realized that material wealth was no substitute for real happiness, which they believed they could achieve if they became followers of Jesus. So in this, Mark is giving us a lesson in the nature of faith and commitment.
However, Jesus and his disciples didnít always see eye to eye, especially when Jesusí teachings strongly contradicted Jewish ones. On one occasion, they were told by Jesus that it was imperative that they detach themselves from any obstacle which may bridge a gap between their relationship with God and each other, including, in some cases, riches and material possessions. The disciples found this difficult to accept, as the Jewish idea was that if you were well off in life, you were "blessed" by God. Therefore, it is no wonder they found it hard to adjust to the idea "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." An example is the story of the Rich Young Man, who sought Jesus out, and asked to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. To that, Jesus answered that he must obey all the commandments. When the rich young man tells him that he has obeyed the commandments "ever since I was young", Jesus "looks at the young man, and loves him." He then tells the young man that he must give away all his money and possessions, and "come follow me" in order to inherit eternal life. With that the young man "walks away saddened", as he was a man of many riches, and could not bear the thought of parting with them. The disciples are astonished by this, and ask Jesus "Who then can be saved?" But once again, they have misunderstood, and fail to realize that it is not the amount of money you have, but whether or not you allow it take over your life, and your quality of relationships with God and others. The exact opposite of the story of the rich young man is the Widowís Offering (Mk ch 12:41-44). This tells the story of a poor widow, whose faith and love for God were so strong, that she was willing to sacrifice all the money she had.
Perhaps the concept the disciples found the most difficult to understand was why Jesus loved others to the point of giving up his life for them. They failed to see Jesus in his true light, as the suffering Messiah. However, there was a point when Jesus thought that Peter had finally gotten the message, when he asked, "Who do you say I am?", and Peter replies "You are the Messiah." However, the moment is short lived, as when Jesus speaks of his impending suffering and death, Peter takes him aside, and tells him not to go. With that, Jesus realizes that Peter doesnít get it after all, and tells Peter to "Get away from me Satan. Your thoughts donít come from God but from man." While at this point in his life he is not prepared to suffer, or for that matter, allow Jesus to suffer for others, unknown to him, he is to become one of the first martyrs of the Christian Church.
Understandably, society has changed a lot in the last 2000 years. Not only have countless new inventions and technologies been introduced, but attitudes have also changed. We not only live in a multi faith society, but their are many more people now who do not feel the need to be bound by a religion. Christians nowadays have many more distractions, such as the media, and television, which could interfere with their relationship with God and others. There is also a growing importance of riches and status in our society.
However, this does not mean that it has become any harder to be a disciple. Most people would be surprised to discover that the Bible is the worldís best selling book. So while there have been countless changes in our society, one of the only things which has remained constant is the Word of God. What was written 2000 years ago still applies to Christians today.
Therefore I think it is safe to say that if the Word of God has not changed, then neither has the meaning of discipleship, as the Bible is still at the centre of a Christianís way of life. While Christians nowadays are fighting for equality among nations, and the Christians of the past fought against Roman Rule and Persecution, we are nevertheless still fighting. Being a disciple of God still means living as much of a Christ like life as possible. Some might argue that the world as it is now is a lot more evil and corrupt than it was in Jesusí time, but in my opinion there has always been evil and corruption in the world. Of course, this corruption would have been present in far different ways then it is now, but as I aforementioned, the world has changed in the last 2000 years.
Just as it was in the past, Christianity today still remains a very much unprejudiced religion. People from every walk of life are still open to the call. However, there are many different ways to interprets this call. Some Christians feel the need to follow Christ in a very radical way. These people are priests, nuns, and all other members of the clergy. They are making the biggest commitment possible, by making a total choice of God, expressed in the vows of Chastity, Obedience, and Poverty they take.
However this does not necessarily make them better Christians than those who donít take these vows. They are just doing what is right for God by them. Religion is a very personal thing, and can be open to many different interpretations. However, the one thing all Christians should have in common is the ability to treat fellow human beings with love, respect and compassion, and have a deep faith in God.
For this reason, there are a great many ways a lay person can be a disciple of God. In fact, they have often been known to bring their Christian values to environments where priests and consecrated religions are never present. They display their Christian values in the way they treat colleagues, and the effort they make in their jobs. Even someone who donates money to charity is a lay person. While they are not, perhaps, choosing to follow God in a radical way, they are nevertheless making an effort to incorporate Godís teachings into their lives.
Others who may be called lay people are teachers, doctors, and anyone else that does research into diseases and illness. Teachers and Youth Workers do a great deal of work teaching adults and children skills which are vital for living prosperous and fulfilling lives, thus showing their love for fellow human beings. Doctors and medical Researchers also show this love for humanity by trying their best to alleviate human pain and suffering, and helping people to lead longer and healthier lives.
Another example of the remarkable work lay people do is the work many of them do for voluntary organizations such as CAFOD, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. This organization specializes in helping developing countries to help themselves, by providing food, clothes, and technical equipment. Knowing they are playing a part in making a personís life more bearable, should be the only reward a Christian needs.
Another much debated point in the history of Christianity, which is still very much under debate today, is the question of material wealth. While some Christians choose to follow the parable of the Rich Young Man quite literally, giving up all material wealth and possessions to follow in Christís footsteps, not doing so doesnít make you a bad Christian. It means, yet again, that you have chosen to interpret Christís message in a different way. In telling the rich young man to give up all his possessions to follow him, Jesus did not mean that it is necessary for Christians to own no material wealth. He simply meant that nothing should be allowed to come between your relationship with God, and in the Rich Young Manís case, his wealth certainly did. The Rich Young Man provides the classic case of what Timothy was talking about in his New Testament letter, whrn he said that "the love of money is the root of all evil".
Unfortunately, lay people live in a society in which anti-Christian attitudes are prevalent. The use of nuclear weapons goes against all teachings of Christianity, as it involves causing intentional injury to others. There are also a great many people who lie their way through life for personal gain, and others who commit many grave offenses against society, by causing significant pain to their victims, or their family.
When it comes down to it, I do believe it is as possible to be a disciple of Christ today as it was in the past. Not only can the late Sean Devereux and Mother Theresa be used as models, but there are countless numbers of ordinary people who are never acknowledged for their good work. The definition of a disciple is a person that follows their leaderís example as much as possible. These people need not necessarily be perfect, nor need they dedicate their whole lives to the church. The only thing that a person must do in order to be a modern day disciple of Christ is to treat others with love, respect, and compassion, and have a deep (but not necessarily unshakable) faith in God. There are, yet again, countless numbers of Christians throughout the world who observe these codes of conduct. They show this by their attitudes towards others, and their willingness to do good works. Despite the many injustices in our society, these people persevere to oppose them, and strive to spread Godís Word in everything they do. Spreading the Word of God does not necessarily mean having to learn the Bible word perfect, nor quote it at every given opportunity; it simply means to try to stop injustice from taking place within your power, and to treat others in the way you would like to be treated.
While circumstances today may differ from those in the past, neither has the Word of God, nor the Christian attitude towards others changed. We have witnessed many beneficial changes in our society, such as women gaining suffrage, and prejudice and discrimination being opposed in most parts of the world. This shows that good works are still being accomplished in our society, and gives us an incentive that not all hope is lost. Unfortunately, there are still many people in developing countries, and so called developed countries, who are forced to accept unfairness, discrimination, and prejudice as a part of their everyday lives. However, we are shown through the many people who choose to donate money to the numerous causes, and people who are prepared to sacrifice even a little to help those less fortunate than themselves, that disciples are more than present in society.
Some might argue that todayís society is materialistic and secularized, and that few people now see the purpose of living by a set of ideals. However, the numerous people who still choose to participate in religious activity and worship show us that the world has by far lost faith in God. There are many people out there that are only kept going by their faith in God, even though their misery appears to be never ending.
It is also true that there will always be some misguided individuals who will insist that using violence is the only means of achieving what they want. This applies particularly to world leaders, who possess the might to end the lives many innocent civilians at will. However, we may be encouraged by the world powers who are prepared to negotiate to ensure that as little blood-shed as possible is enabled.
It may also be said by some that far fewer people are as devoted to Christianity as they were in the past, as we no longer have prophets, or the Son of God Jesus to guide us. However, there are still many people who are choosing to enter the Holy Orders, and all these people can serve as an inspiration to us all. People such as these are still choosing to leave their loved ones in order to devote their lives to God. Also, when Jesus preached his Good News almost 2000 years ago, there were no fewer people then there are now who opposed to his teachings.
However, the one thing that the Christians of the past had that none of us will probably have the opportunity to see in our life times are miracles performed first hand. While it is true that humans have a tendency to believe only what they see, the Bible has, and will continue to be a great source of inspiration for many. It is true that the Bible is the closest thing we will ever get to an understanding of Jesusí way of life and Christianity, so the Christian faith will remain to be, for us, an unraveled mystery.
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Discipleship. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 11 Oct, 2010 from