Tuesday, March 24, 2015

“For the Purpose of Being with Him”: The Relationship between Jesus and the Disciples in Mark

In a previous post I wrote about Mark’s presentation of the disciples as portraits of human failure and possibility before God. The disciples, particularly in Mark’s story, do come off as failures, but their failure does not negate their relationship to Jesus. Indeed, a vitally important aspect of understanding discipleship in Mark is to grasp as best as one can this relationship between Jesus and those who follow him in the narrative. While a Christological dimension of discipleship is present in that these followers are called to imitate Jesus, there is also a strong sense in Jesus’ call for them to participate with him in fulfilling God’s call. 
This is evident in a number of references to the disciples being with Jesus. The calling and appointing of the disciples in 3:13-19 is for the purpose of being with Jesus and to be sent out to proclaim the message. The forward position of  i/(na w)=sin met au)tou= (“for the purpose of being with him”) indicates that the primary purpose for the calling and appointing of these disciples is to be in fellowship with Jesus on his mission. 
The proclamation (khru/ssein) to which they are also appointed is derived from Jesus’ proclamation (see 1:38 for Jesus’ understanding his purpose for coming to proclaim), and extends from their having been with him. From this point Jesus is mostly with his disciples, except at times when he withdraws from them for prayer (6:46) or when he sends them out (aposte/llein) on mission (6:7-13).
There is, however, a concentration of references to Jesus being with his disciples or his disciples being with him in chapter 14 (vv. 14, 17, 18, 20, 33). These are a mixture of references to this relationship that highlight Jesus’ intimacy with his co-workers. What may be particularly fascinating is the fact that the references cited above occur in the context of the Passover Meal celebration. 
In this scene there is a paradoxical portrayal of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. On the one hand, the intimacy of the meal is clear. On the other hand, this intimacy is strained as Jesus predicts that the one “eating with me (met e)mou=; 14:18), the one dipping bread into the bowl “with me” (met e)mou; 14:20) will betray him or hand him over (The same word used by Jesus in his passion/resurrection predictions in Mark.). Yet, this one is not alone in his guilt, as Jesus predicts that the other disciples will desert him in his time of need. 
Even in the Garden, where Jesus takes James, John and Peter with him (met au)tou=; 14:33), the beginning of the split in the relationship is made as the disciples fail to stay awake and pray with Jesus during his greatest time of need for intimacy. The intimacy between Jesus and his disciples, those chosen to be with him, will now be severely challenged, even damaged, by the suffering to come.
What may also be interesting is the fact that the mention of someone being with Jesus does not occur again after the scene in the Garden. Ironically the idea is present in the scene where the servant-girl in 14:67 questions Peter, “You also were with (meta\) Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” Peter emphatically denies this accusation. The intimacy of being a co-worker with Jesus, of sharing in the ministry to which God had called him, and sharing in the Passover Meal, now gives way for the complete desertion of these disciples and their estrangement from Jesus. 
The movement of Peter from court to forecourt now replaces the intimacy of the boat, the road, and particularly the table. Peter’s emphatic denial of ever knowing Jesus reverses his earlier declaration of Jesus as the Messiah and distances him not only from the one he was called to be with, but also from the God of Mark’s narrative. Jesus is left as the sole executor of God’s will.
Despite this failure of those called to be with Jesus, the empty tomb scene serves as the climax of the narrative and the relationship between Jesus and his followers. The women arrive at the tomb to view the corpse of their former teacher, but they are instead met by a young man dressed in a white robe, who proclaims that Jesus has been raised. He orders the women to go and tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus will meet them in Galilee (16:7). 
The divine power to raise Jesus from the dead reflects the divine reversal of the tragedy of not only the death of the Beloved Son, but also the broken relationship between Jesus and those who were called to be with him. The human failure is replaced by divine faithfulness to the Son and those called to be with him, as God’s triumph in raising Jesus to life makes possible the reuniting of Jesus and those called to participate with him. 
Moreover, the ending of the narrative with a promise from the heavenly messenger that Jesus will meet his followers in Galilee leaves the audience with the continued presence of Jesus with the discipleship community. Instead of narrating an ascension story, as Matthew and Luke do, Mark ends with the implication that Jesus is continuing in his ministry on earth with those called to participate with him.
Therefore, Mark’s narrative presentation of discipleship is two-fold. On the one hand, disciples are called to follow Jesus as the one who models doing the will of God. At the same time, however, disciples are called to participate with Jesus in doing God’s will. Mark’s Jesus is the paradigm of true faithfulness before God, and those called to participate with him are called primarily to faithfulness before God. 

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