>As I’ve been preparing for ministry, one common theme has continually popped up. It is where I believe my primary work in ministry will rest. It is something to which all Christians are called, but very few take the time to equip themselves properly. It is a call to discipleship. What does it mean to be a disciple? Discipleship is much more than simply being a believer. As we read through Mark’s gospel, we see two distinct callings for the Twelve.

In Mark 1:16-20, Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee and sees Simon (Peter) and Andrew casting their nets into the sea. He calls out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17). He then goes a little further calls to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They too drop what they are doing and begin to follow Jesus.

This is the individual call to follow Jesus. Jesus comes to each of us with the call to follow him. Peter, Andrew, James and John immediately stop what they are doing and begin to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew are in the midst of casting their nets when Jesus calls, and Mark tells us that they left their nets. I’m making a bit of an assumption here, but there is no indication that they brought in their nets before they left to follow Jesus. Mark writes, “They immediately left their nets and followed him” (Mk 1:18). He then goes to James and John, who stop mending their nets and leave their father in the boat with the hired help. The call to discipleship takes precedence over all areas of our lives, even our jobs and our family.

As we continue in Mark’s gospel, the writer relates a series of healings. Demons are cast out and silenced, Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, the multitudes are also healed. Jesus did not do this without the assistance of the Father either. Right in the middle of this section, Mark writes, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mk 1:35). Jesus’ power to heal comes from his connection with the Father. Mark then relates the healing of a leper (Mk 1:40-45) and a paralytic (Mk 2:1-12) before something familiar happens.

In Mk 1:16, Jesus is said to be walking by the Sea of Galilee. It is then that he calls Peter and Andrew, and a bit later James and John. In Mk 2:13, Jesus is also said to be walking beside the sea. He comes upon Levi the son of Alphaeus, who was a tax collector. Levi (also known as Matthew, see Mt 9:9), at Jesus’ call, leaves his tax office and begins to follow Jesus. Mark seems to bookend the stories of healing and casting out demons with the calling of specific disciples. There is something about Jesus’ ability to heal and restore life that is related to discipleship. If Jesus can heal the physical ailments of this life, how much more can he heal the spiritual? The basic condition of humanity is a fallen nature that is in need of restoration and redemption, and through Jesus Christ, this redemption and restoration is possible.

In Mark 2:18, Jesus begins by relating the Parable of Cloth and Wineskins. Jesus’ words strike at the very heart of the established religion of his day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put in new wineskins” (Mk 2:21-22 NKJV). At first glance, this parable appears to be out of place; however, if one were to look at the wider context of the parable, something else comes to the surface. What follows are three key stories concerning Jesus and his relations with the religious establishment of the day.

In the first one (Mk 2:23-28), the disciples are plucking the heads of the grain in the fields so that they may have something to eat. The Pharisees question whether or not this is breaking the Sabbath. The idea is that the disciples are explicitly doing work on a day in which work was forbidden. Jesus addresses the Pharisees by retelling the story of David found in 1 Samuel 21. Jesus concludes by saying that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath was intended to be a time of rest, not of strict adherence to the Pharisaic laws of the day, which were more of a burden than a blessing.

The second story has to do with Jesus healing a man who had a “withered” hand. The word used is exeranthe, which points to the idea of something being dried up. It is often used in the Old Testament in reference to rivers, streams, or even the earth (in the case of the flood) being dried up. In Israel, as everywhere else, water is an important commodity; one that symbolizes life. To say that something was “dried up” would imply that there is no life in it. In other words, this man’s hand had no life in it. It was useless. The Pharisees watched Jesus to see what he would do in this instance, and he asks them a question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mk 3:4). They did not respond because they wanted to accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath. Jesus was grieved by the hardness that they displayed in their reaction to his question, and he healed the man. The Pharisees took the letter of the Law over the heart of the Law. Jesus points out that healing, the restorative physical action, is more important and gets to the heart of the Law.

The third story comes out of the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ actions. In Mk 3:6, it is said that they began to plot with the Herodians (a secular political party) on how to kill Jesus. Jesus goes out from that meeting and continues his ministry of healing throughout the region. All the while, he is silencing the evil spirits who know Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God.

It is at this point that the reader sees the second call of Jesus. In Mk 3:13-19, Jesus brings around him the Twelve, whose names are listed in vv. 16-19. The purpose for bringing them near is stated in the text, “that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” (Mk 3:14-15). Before getting to this two-part calling, I would like to take a minute or two to delve into the Greek text.

Mark 3:13 states, “And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him.” There is a lot lost in the nuances of the Greek once it is translated into English. In the Greek language there are several tenses. In English, we only really have past, present and future. Greek has six tenses: aorist, imperfect, pluperfect, present, perfect and future. In the Greek, time is not the only thing indicated in the tense. Greek also gives the sense of the action that is in view. For example, the aorist tense looks at an event as a whole. Imagine a parade. The aorist tense would look at the parade from start to finish and see it as though it were a snapshot – example, “I saw a parade.” The present tense would see the parade as it is passing by – example, “I am seeing a parade.” The imperfect tense would describe the parade as it passed by – example, “I was seeing a parade”. The perfect, pluperfect and future tenses are not really relevant to the upcoming information, and so I will not address them at this time. So, why is the information on the present, imperfect and aorist tenses important?

There are four verbs listed in the Mark 3:13 passage. Let me translate it from the Greek and italicize the verbs that are used, as they appear in the Greek text. “And he is going up into the mountain and he is calling to himself those who he was wanting, and they came to him.” Notice the verb tenses. The first two verbs are present tense verbs. Scholars have pointed out that there is such a usage of the present tense known as the historical present. Often an author will use the present tense in describing a past event in order to draw the audience in. The next verb is in the imperfect tense. It describes the motion of the verb in past time. Jesus “was wanting” these particular people. The final verb is in the aorist tense – “They came.” What I find most facinating about all of this grammatical stuff is that Mark could have easily used the imperfect tense for the first two verbs (in fact, this is what one would expect to see here), but he intentionally chose to use the present tense. Jesus did not just call the Twelve, but he continues to call each of us even in this present time. Jesus’ calling of the disciples may begin with the Twelve, but in no way does it end with them. And now the question is, “What does this call look like?”

I mentioned above that there is a two-part calling in vv.14-15. The first part of Jesus’ call to his disciples is that they may “be with him.” Discipleship requires that we spend time with Jesus. The first call of the disciple is to be with Jesus – that the students be in the presence of the Master. The second part of the calling has to do with the ministry that grows out of the relationship they have with Christ. It is because they are with Jesus that they can preach, heal the sick and cast out the demons. Just like Jesus in Mk 1:35, we have to be aware of the source of our power and stay connected to that source in order for the ministry that we undertake be faithful to the calling of Jesus Christ.

I want to walk just a little further in Mark’s gospel before I call it a day on this post. Immediately after Jesus calls the Twelve for the purposes of being with him and being sent into ministry, Mark relates the story of Jesus’ own (i.e. his family) coming to “lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind'” (Mk 3:21). What follows is a brief story about how the scribes attributed Jesus’ work to the evil one. They claim that it is by the prince of demons that he drives out the demons. Jesus challenges their statement by saying that a house divided against itself does not stand, but comes to an end. He warns them of the blasphemies of which they speak in giving Satan credit for the work of God. At this point, the narrative moves back to his family. Jesus is told that his family is outside waiting on him, but his reply is shocking. “‘Who is my mother, or my brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother'” (Mk 3:33-35). Jesus redefines the nature of our relationships. Being a disciple of Christ necessitates that Christ is the center of our entire being, even to the point that our traditional relationships become redefined in the light of our relationship to Jesus.

There is so much more going on in Mark’s gospel. I hope that the above work has helped to set forth a framework in which to read it in a new light. The call to discipleship is a call of restoration and redemption. It is a call to leave behind everything for the sake of the gospel. It is a call that causes us to not be slaves to the system of the religious establishment, but to be the slaves of Christ. Our primary relationship becomes our relationship with Jesus, and all other relationship have to be seen in the light of Christ Jesus.

Just some musings from a traveling pilgrim.

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