Did Jesus intend to invite a 13th Disciple? Pt 1.

I have been studying Mark’s gospel, in my morning devotions.  I have found some really enriching treasures as I make my way through the book.  I’ll admit right now, that, in the past, I have consciously avoided reading Mark, figuring that Mathew and Luke have all that and more. If you are shaking your head in disgrace at me, I deserve it. I know it is wrong headed and misguided, and I’m just trying to be honest about my former thoughts.  Let me take a moment to right this wrong!

I want to proclaim right now that Mark’s gospel is full of mirth, insight, and, for me, unexpected beauty.  My plea is that you will make Mark, often cited as the chronologically first Gospel, a regular part of your bible reading.

Mark’s gospel has inspired more than one of my ideas for an article, because it is full of quirky facets.  Reading it has been fun, as well as transformative.  I have found in Mark, an earthy, masculine, stern Jesus, who makes no compromises and always has a swift rebuke.  He rebuffs Peter, one of his closest friends and the mouthpiece of the 12, with the same harsh words Mathew and Luke’s gospel record him using against Satan. Suffice it to say that I commend the Gospel of Mark, and, if you, like me, had set it aside, I think it deserves another look.

All that by way of preface, I’m now prepared to share with you what I consider to be a colossal find! When reading the account of the rich, young ruler, I noticed that Jesus bade him 1) take up his cross and 2) follow me. I was stunned by the implications. This is an amazing discovery! Don’t think so? Hear’s why you’re wrong; in the other gospels, the only time Jesus ever commanded anyone to take up their cross and follow Him was when He was speaking to one of his 12 Disciples! Ka-boom!

Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And again in Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke tells us in verse 18 of this chapter that, “Once when Jesus was praying in private and only his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” So, we know that Jesus only invited the 12 Disciples to “take up the cross, and follow me”.

Exhilarating! It wasn’t just any old follower that Jesus said these words to. It wasn’t some member of the rabble, an unknown face in the multitude, or some common saying of our Lord’s. This was next level stuff. It represented a dimension of Jesus ‘following’ that few had ascribed to. Taking up the cross and following Jesus, was a command he gave to his closest followers, his 12 Disciples, whom he had hand picked. “Now wait just a cotton picking minute,” some of you astute Bible scholars may be screaming at your monitors. In Mark 8:34-38, only 2 chapters earlier, Jesus called “the people” to Himself and said “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

This seems to contradict the special nature of the call to “take up your cross and follow me.” It seems to render what I’ve been saying not so spectacular after all. If Jesus reserved the call to take up the cross and follow him for his hand selected disciples, then why does Mark 8:34 tell us he called “the people” to himself? Great question! Here’s another great question, why does it use the term ‘the people’ rather than ‘the multitudes’, as it does in the beginning of the chapter? The solution may be found in the fact that “the people” were in Bethsaida.

What does that have to do with anything? Well, for starters, Bethsaida was the location of the lonely, far flung, sparsely peopled, desolate place where Jesus did the Feeding of the Four Thousand. (Jesus did large scale miracles like this, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand, in wide open spaces, out of towns. In fact, Jesus lead the blind man out of town, before he healed him. Why does Jesus take the trouble to walk this poor blind man all the way out of town, prior to doing the miracle?) Bethsaida, to this day, leaves very little archaeological evidence of having ever been a large, people inhabited town. Historically, it is located on the Northeast side of the Sea of Galilee, but, owing to the lack of 1st century pot shards, etc, there is some debate among scholars. The absence of evidence that a lot of people lived there, shows that Bethsaida was more of a settlement than a city.

At any rate, there were far fewer in the crowd constituting “the people” than there were among “the multitude”, perhaps only scores. Maybe not even that many. So, Jesus’ 12 Disciples most likely constituted a large cohort of the assembled listeners. In fact, having “the people” around, may have been Jesus’ way of collecting witnesses against the Disciples, when he gave them the “take up the cross and follow me” directive. Perhaps “the people” acted as unbiased outsiders, who could attest to the stringent nature of the community of those who consider themselves a disciple.
Or, maybe “the people” (remember this is likely a small group) mentioned were particularly committed to Jesus. Maybe they loved him, and believed on him. Maybe they were among the Four Thousand, and knew Jesus to be a great Prophet. Could it be that Jesus knew they were especially close followers, not quite on a par with his 12 Disciples, and wanted to make them completely clear on what it takes to be a real disciple?

Maybe I haven’t convinced you just how special it was when Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me”. Or maybe, you think I’m on to something radically important. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, no one can deny that Jesus was inviting the rich young ruler to a life shattering depth of commitment, which included sacrificing all wealth, status, distance from the poor, and self sufficiency. Matt Skinner, writing at WorkingPreacher.com, has some really focused insights on Jesus’ call to the rich, young ruler.

This might be as a good a place as any to mention that none of the gospel refer to him explicitly as “the rich, young ruler”.  Ka-boom!  That’s just a title we compiled for him, from the combined descriptions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  So, that might mean that many of my original preconcieved notions are based on  an amalgam description, which the Bible doesn’t even explicitly use.

In the next part I will dissect this passage, and give my insights and remarks. Hopefully, you will see this ho-hum story, we’ve all heard a million times, through new eyes. I was shaken, exhilarated, challenged, offended and humbled by this ground breaking interaction between the Lord and this pious, spiritually hungry, God fearing Jew, the rich, young ruler. Once again, God has blessed me by using His holy Word to impart virtue and grace onto me, and I can only invite you to be a part of what God has done for me.

Bottom line; He deserves a second look.  Follow the link below to take an in depth examination of the rich, young, ruler.  Join me, will you?
Part 2

The monkey’s paw as values clarification exercise

Say what you mean.  Mean what you say.

I am often understood to be saying something, which I would not say on purpose because it is hurtful or in error.  I hate to be misunderstood.  It is one of the things in life which really brings me pain.  I have said things I thought were innocent, which ended in the wounding and offending of someone I care about, and that is something I try to never do purposely.  To further poison the parting glass, which is the misfortune of unintentionally injuring the pride of my loved one, I add my own guilt, embarrassment, and pain at being misunderstood to the noxious cocktail and it becomes all the more potent and inebriating.  Like a drunkard I stumble about looking for an exit, slurring my hasty apologies.  I apologize a lot.  It pricks me very deeply to hurt other people’s feelings with my thoughtless words.  It hasn’t always.  Now that I am a bit older, it is important for me to take my time to choose words carefully, especially when I risk hurting a loved one or spoiling a special moment.  To avoid doing so, (and when I am not in my flesh) first, give myself half a moment to comport my emotions with reality.  Next, I check my words for sharp barbs and bludgeoning wallop.  Then I take a deep breath and speak gently.  Needless to say, I am diligent to go as far out of my as needs be, in order to use words to bless and imbue virtue.

I think it is really important to say what you mean.  I try very hard to use words well, so that my exact meaning is transmitted, with as little room for misunderstanding as possible.  This means choosing the right words!  Mark Twain once said that,

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word, is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”

But, before you can choose the right words, you must really know what you mean. It is almost impossible to say the right thing, when you aren’t sure what you really believe.

Sometimes we imagine that we know what we are trying to say, when really we don’t.  I have been flustered, and felt kind of incompetent, when I have tried to explain certain things.  For instance, I have recently had to have a talk with my wife about our investment strategies.  I found that I wasn’t able to explain certain subtleties.  This probably means that I don’t understand them very well myself.  I was feeling flummoxed, hot under the collar, and irritable.  How can I convey to her a sense of ease and confidence in our investments, when I don’t even hold a tight grasp on all of the complexities?  This reminds me of one of the rules of philosophy and science; you can’t give others what you yourself do not possess.

In other words, if a hat holds 3 gallons of tea, you can’t get 4 out of it.

So, you must first hold a comprehensive knowledge of the thing, before you will ever be able to give that value to anyone else.  I often find that if I look closely, I don’t really know why I want something.  I find in myself a desire, which I can neither account for its root or heritage.  It is neither moral, physical necessity, nor utilitarian.  I’ve posed this line of thinking to others, sometimes in the form of asking for a definition of cool.  We don’t even know what cool is, but we want to be it; especially as young people, among our peers.  To be thought highly off, seems to be universal human desire.  But, I do not see how it helps you to do arithmetic, earn a living, garden or live a holy life.  I’m a grown man, and I wish I could say that I do not care one iota about looking cool.  Whose approval am I soliciting anyway?  Is it God’s or men?  What could I possible do with my “coolness” once I got it? Is coolness currency?

There is a popular folk tale in which a man and wife use a magical talisman in the form of a monkey’s mummified paw to wish for their dead son’s return.  Of course, they did not choose their words with care, so the shuffling, decaying thing which returns from the grave is a misery and terror to them.  The whole thing ends in torment and sorrow.   They had to experience the fear of the dead thing, which had once been their beloved boy, in order to appreciate that some things are worse than death.  This was a values clarification exercise.  It proved that they would only be able to keep their son, so long as he remained an honored dead, rather than a living thing of reprehensible rot and putrescence, which was in no way their beloved boy.  It is a paradox for us as well; that the only way we shall be able to keep our lives is if we lose them.  But, mark those words well, for they come from the Master and Keeper of Life.  We conclude (along with every other moral tale of persons having their yearnings at long last fulfilled, only to find that they thing they had wanted could not ultimately satisfy their souls) that, indeed, one must be careful what one wishes for.  Is it clichéd?  Certain!  Is it the base truth of all desires?  Most certainly!

Every person must do a values clarification exercise to discover why it is you want what you want.  Without knowing why you have these desires, you will forever chase the latest fads, fashions, and affirmations of others.  Like a dog chasing its tale, you’ll never catch what you’re really after, because you’ve never taken the time to really figure out what’s worth having.  Everyone I’ve ever met has wanted something, but few have ever been able to explain why.  They simply feel it.  They know it in their core.  Actually, I am satisfied with that response about certain things.  But, it simply won’t do for many of the things we say we want.  Consider the following experiment.

Ask a student why he wants to do well in school, and he will almost without fail answer you, “to get into college”.  Ask the young man why he wants to go to college and 9 times out of 10 he will say, “To get a good job”.  (This is the answer he has always been given by his peers, and usually the only reason he had ever been told by his parents to pursue higher education.)  Ask him why he’d like to have a good job, and, invariably he will look at you incredulously and say, “Duh, to make lots of money.”  (I do not have space here to explore that he takes it for granted that the “good job” is the one which makes “lots of money”.   Then ask him why he would like to “make lots of money”.  At this point he will probably be flustered, and unable to cogently discuss his desire for lots of money, because he has taken it for granted that making lots of money is an end unto itself.  Possibly, if he is a decent sort or planning for a family, the young man will reply, “to take good care of my wife and kids.”  If you were to push further, and ask him why he should want to “take good care of his wife and kids”, he might respond, “I don’t know, that’s just what you’re supposed to do.”  He simply feels it, without being able to explain it.  I said before that gut feeling can suffice as explanation for some desires, but I do not agree that the filial responsibility to take good care of one’s family is one of these.  Although, I do feel in my gut the responsibility to take good care of my family, I do not find it to be an end unto itself.   When we mentally allow means unto an end to substitute as ends unto themselves, we have departed from the Truth.

The Christian’s response to any one of these questions, and indeed should be the response to the very first question (and every other one along the way) is to glorify God.  I want to do well in school to glorify God.  I want to go to college so I can glorify God.  I’d like to get a job to glorify God, and my desire is to glorify God with the money I earn there.  I want to raise a family which will glorify God into the ensuing generations.  Clarifying your values should begin with glorify god… ask the question how does this praise the lord, advance his name, bring Him what he’s due?

Clarifying values gets to the heart of desire? It answers the question, “Is this vain ambition, foolish conceit, frivolous acquisitiveness, or something ontologically solid?” I am constantly asking small children, “Why do you want that?” You can’t even prove it would be good for you, let alone worth the money. But, children don’t really care about those properties. They care about what their primal brains tell them to care about. Disregarding logic. Casting away all dignity. Shamelessly squawking their felt needs. The child has no need, nor indeed no ability, for explanations.

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Fill in the blank on the following sentence. This year for Christmas, I would like (blank). Now, let me ask you, does (blank) provide you with more silence? Does it bequeath more solitude? Does it promise simplicity (you know, the kind one experiences while sitting beside the lake or stream, and gazing at the gently passing clouds). If it doesn’t do those three, or at least 1 of the 3, then you want the wrong thing. If it doesn’t give you prolonged periods of silence, solitude and/or simplicity, please stop desiring it.