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Discipleship
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After studying this section you should:

  • know the most important aspect of Mark’s Gospel is the message he conveys about what is necessary to be a follower of Jesus, i.e. to be a disciple
  • know that it is from these passages that you can find much evidence to support Christian teachings on attitudes to contemporary moral issues

The section on discipleship is mainly contained in Mark 8:22–10:52. It begins with the curing of the blind man at Bethsaida and ends with the curing of Blind Bartimaeus. These episodes can be seen as symbolic. Until people recognise the way of discipleship they are blind. Only when they understand the cost of being a follower of Jesus can they be considered to have seen the new way and become enlightened.

Leadership / Call of the disciples

When Jesus calls the disciples they drop everything and follow him without question (Mark 1:16–20). He said to Simon and Andrew, ‘Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.’

He appointed the twelve: Simon (Peter); James and John (Boanerges); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Thadeus, Simon and Judas Iscariot.

He gave the disciples their mission and sent them out.

  • They went in pairs to have authority over unclean spirits.
  • They were to take nothing except a stick.
  • They took no bread, no pack and no money.
  • They took only sandals, no extra coat.
  • When admitted to a house they should stay until they left.
  • When not welcome somewhere they should leave and shake the dust from their feet.

Jesus commissioned his disciples after his resurrection. He told them to:

‘Go forth and proclaim the good news. Those who believe it will be saved; those who don’t will be condemned. Believers will cast out demons in my name, speak in strange tongues, handle snakes or drink any deadly poison and come to no harm. They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.’ (Mark 16:15–18)

Peter’s confession of faith (Caesarea Philippi)
  • Jesus asks the disciples ‘Who do people say I am?’
  • They tell him that some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others say one of the prophets.
  • He asks, ‘Who do you say I am?’
  • Peter replies, ‘You are the Messiah.’
  • Then he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him and began to teach them that the Son of Man had to undergo great sufferings, to be rejected by the priests, doctors and teachers of the law; to die and rise again three days later. Peter loves Jesus and, although he recognises Jesus as the Messiah, he is not able to see what kind of Messiah Jesus is.
  • When Peter rebukes Jesus for this talk, Jesus says to him, ‘Away Satan, you think as men think, not as God thinks.’

Jesus’ admonition to secrecy is known as the Messianic Secret. It must not yet be revealed that Jesus is the Messiah.

Taking up the cross

The taking of the cross is the central theme of Mark’s Gospel, and a message to the persecuted Christians in Rome.

  • Jesus tells the crowd and his followers: ‘If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget self, carry his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever wants to lose his life for me and for the Gospel will save it. Does a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? Of course not.’ (Mark 8:34–36)
  • Taking up the cross had a literal meaning for Mark’s readers who faced death for their Christian beliefs. Even today, Christians in many areas are killed for their beliefs. Roman Catholic priests and nuns, for example, have been murdered in El Salvador because their work with the poor was seen as a threat to the government.
  • This idea is reinforced when Peter, James and John witness the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain (Mark 9:2–9) and see him with Moses and Elijah.
  • Jesus tells them the Son of Man will suffer and die. The Scriptures will be fulfilled, just as they were when people treated Elijah as they pleased.

Qualities of a follower (disciple)

There are, then, certain passages that allow the reader to see the qualities that are necessary to be a follower of Jesus carrying the cross.

  • A follower must have faith as the father of the boy with an evil spirit has faith and prays for more faith, believing anything is possible for those who have faith.
  • A follower must have humility. Jesus says, ‘Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all’ (Mark 9:35).
  • A follower should love children. Jesus says, ‘Whoever welcomes in my name one of these children, welcomes me; whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me but the one who has sent me’ (Mark 9:37).
  • A follower is anyone who is for Jesus. (Therefore Christians of any denomination) ‘For whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40).
  • A follower must have fidelity in marriage. Jesus says, ‘Man must not separate what God has joined together’ (Mark 10:9) and ‘A man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against his wife. In the same way, a woman who divorces her husband and marries another man commits adultery’ (Mark 10:11–12).
  • A follower must receive the Kingdom of God like a child. ‘Let the children come to me
    and do not stop them for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, will not enter it’ (Mark 10:14–15). Children receive and believe in innocence, which is often lost through the trials of life. Adults have to struggle to hold onto a childlike faith.
  • A follower must sell all he has and give it to the poor. When the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus tells him to obey the commandments. He says he has done this since childhood so Jesus tells him he must sell everything, give it to the poor and follow Jesus. The rich man goes away sad because he is very rich and Jesus tells the disciples, ‘It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle’ (Mark 10:17–21).
  • A follower must be servant of all. When James and John ask if they can sit either side of Jesus on his glorious throne, he tells them they have no idea of the suffering he must endure. He tells them, ‘If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest’ (Mark 10:43).

The rewards of discipleship

  • Those who give up everything to follow Jesus will receive a hundred times more fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, land and persecutions as well as eternal life.
  • These passages spell out clearly that Mark’s message is that the Gospel values are difficult to hold on to; they are difficult ways to follow and Jesus sets a hard path for his would-be followers. Christianity is not a ‘soft’ way of life, but a very challenging way to live.

The Passover meal

  • Jesus is asked by his disciples where he wishes them to prepare the Passover meal. He instructs them to follow a man carrying a jar into a house and tells them that the owner of the house will lead them to an upper room.
  • When they are all assembled in the upper room Jesus says one of them will betray him and they all deny it.
  • Jesus tells them that the one who dips his bread with him will be the traitor and ‘It would be better for that man if he had never been born’ because he will betray the Son of Man.

The Lord’s Supper

  • During the meal Jesus breaks bread, says a prayer of thanks, and says, ‘Take it, this is my body’. (Mark 14:23)
  • He gives the cup of wine, and says, ‘This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant’. (Mark 14:24)
  • He also predicts that Peter will deny him.

The Lord’s Supper is the institution of the Eucharist and is the central part of much Christian worship. The remembrance of Christ and his sacrifice is commemorated at the breaking of bread by Christians together.

Candidates should be aware that Roman Catholic Christians believe in the doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’, that when Roman Catholic priests break bread in the Mass, Jesus becomes really present in substance. In the Protestant tradition, the minister re-enacts the Last Supper and Jesus becomes symbolically present to the worshippers.

Because of these differences in doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church forbids its members to participate in shared Communion with other denominations, except in exceptional circumstances.

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus
  • In Mark’s Gospel a great deal of emphasis is placed on Jesus’ suffering and death.
  • Mark wishes to convey the extent of the suffering of Jesus, his humiliation, the injustice of his situation, his own fear and the horrible pain of his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane

  • When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked his Father to take away his cup of suffering because he was deeply distressed by the fear of His coming death.
  • Jesus nevertheless told his Father that he would do what his Father wanted him to do; not what he himself wanted (Mark 14:32–41).
  • This passage shows what is expected of Christian disciples. They must be prepared to discern God’s will and accept it, even if it means their own death.

Jesus is betrayed

  • Jesus was arrested when Judas betrayed him by a kiss; this was a signal to the chief priests and the teachers of the law and the elders (Mark 14:43–52) to seize him in the garden.
  • Jesus did not resist the arrest. He knew that his teaching and actions were seen as a threat to the authorities.

Trial before the Sanhedrin

  • At his trial before the council of religious leaders (Mark 14:53–65) many witnesses told lies about what Jesus had said and contradicted one another.
  • The High Priest finally asked Jesus whether he was the Messiah, and Jesus replied, ‘I am, and you will all see the Son of Man seated on the right of the Almighty coming with the clouds of heaven’.
  • The Jewish leaders were very angry to hear these words because the words ‘I am’ were sacred – suggesting that Jesus was divine. He was declared guilty of blasphemy.

Peter’s denial

  • During the trial, Peter, the leader of the disciples, denied to a waiting crowd that he knew Jesus (Mark 14:66–72).
  • He was afraid that he would also be arrested for being a follower of Jesus. After the cock had crowed twice Peter remembered that Jesus had told him that he would deny that he knew Jesus. Peter broke down and cried.
  • Peter’s story was an example to the followers of Jesus of a man, their leader, who had turned away from following Jesus, but then returned to following Jesus after Jesus had forgiven him.

Trial before Pilate

  • The high priests had Jesus taken before Pilate. They had declared him guilty of blasphemy but had no power to condemn him to death.
  • Only the governor had that power. The high priests had already spread rumours that Jesus had called himself the King of the Jews, and that was treason.
  • Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ and Jesus replied, ‘The words are yours.’
  • Jesus did not reply to any of the accusations made against him.
  • Pilate decided to offer Jesus as one of the prisoners for release for the Passover alongside a murderer called Barabbas. The crowd called for Barabbas and when Pilate asked what he should do with the one they called the King of the Jews they called out, ‘Crucify him!’
  • So Pilate (to satisfy the mob) had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified (Mark 15:1–15).

The death of Jesus

  • Jesus was mocked.
  • The soldiers took him into the governor’s headquarters.
  • They put a purple robe on him and twisted some thorns into a crown for his head.
  • They called him ‘King of the Jews’ and bowed down and spat on him.
  • Jesus was helped by Simon from Cyrene as he carried his own cross to the place called Golgotha (the Place of a Skull) where he was to die.
  • Jesus refused the drugged wine (vinegar) he was offered.
  • He was fixed to the cross and his executioners cast lots for his clothes.
  • He was crucified at 9 o’clock in the morning and a sign was put over him, which said, ‘The King of the Jews’.
  • Passers-by mocked him, telling him to save himself as he had saved others or to come down from the cross and save himself if he really had the power to rebuild the temple in days.
  • At 3 o’clock the land was covered in darkness and Jesus cried out, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?)
  • Then Jesus gave a loud cry and died and the curtain in the Temple was torn in two.
  • The centurion looked on Jesus and said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’
  • It is thought that Jesus may have been crying out in the agony of his humanity that God had abandoned Him. Some scholars say that Jesus was uttering the beginning of Psalm 22, which ends joyously. The temple curtain tearing can be seen to symbolise that through his death Jesus had allowed all men to enter the ‘Holy of Holies’, which was a special curtained-off area of the temple where only high priests could go. This would be constant with Mark’s theme that Jesus was clearing a path for a new way of living. The centurion’s comments confirm that for Mark, Jesus was very much the Son of God, as even one of his murderers realised.
The Resurrection
  • On the day after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome go to anoint the body, as is the custom.
  • They find the stone rolled away and the body gone.
  • A young man tells them to go and tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus has gone to Galilee ahead of them.
  • The women run from the tomb in distress.
  • Readers are told that Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, to two disciples in the country and to eleven disciples when they are eating. He scolds them for their fear and orders them to go out and preach the Gospel, driving out demons and performing miracles in His name.
  • Jesus is then taken up to heaven.
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