Mark 3:13-21. And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he willed; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon, whom he named Peter; James the son of Zeb’edee and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.” [The word of the Lord; thanks, be to God]

Mark’s gospel is about two things: Jesus, the Son of God, and Discipleship. Achtemeier, Green and Thompson (Introduction to the NT), Say this regarding “Christology and discipleship…how one understands the first will influence one’s understanding of the second, and vice versa.” The Markan narrative consistently uses the motif of conflict to highlight contrasting elements, which can make for a rather jolting storyline. But it makes us pay attention. Some are with Jesus, others against him. The twelve are appointed, then the family steps in.

Jesus is portrayed in Mark’s narrative as a powerful teacher, a miracle worker; people are flocking to hear him speak. He speaks with authority on the Scriptures as he casts out demons and gives sight to the blind. In Mark, there is no refined sermon on the mount or on the plain, such as what Matthew and Luke included. Rather, in chapter 4, Jesus teaches large crowds beside the sea. He describes three metaphors for the kingdom, each having to do with seeds: the parable of the sower, the mustard seed, and an allusion to Isaiah 55.

Compare: The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. (Mk 4:26-27)
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
(Isa. 55:10-11a)

Those near Jesus, followers and the Twelve, are told, “to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;” (4:11). [Great! So what does it mean, Jesus?] “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word…” (v.13ff)  Even his explanations tend to confound his disciples.

The author of Mark makes Jesus’ identity clear from the beginning—1:1 [reads] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. How do we know he’s the Son of God? John the Baptist heralds him; the Holy Spirit descends at his baptism; he endures testing in the wilderness; and he casts out evil spirits. Jesus is the Messiah. As readers, we have the privilege of this information, not so for the other characters in the story.

Discipleship, shows another image. It’s wrought with failure, lack of understanding, and sheer buffoonery at times (recall episodes with Peter, or, a certain young man running off naked from the authorities). And, while we are certain about who Jesus is, we don’t always know who’s in or out when it comes to his followers. The author of Mark’s narrative uses terms like ‘disciple’, ‘crowd’, ‘followers’ and ‘the twelve’ in some fluid ways. An example: The crowds at first are close to Jesus, and the disciples initially called from their fishing duties seem to be part of the crowd. But quickly Jesus is teaching the crowd from a distance—he’s on a boat with the disciples, while the crowds are on shore. Next there’s the story of Jairus interrupted by the woman: so, we see a religious leader calling on Jesus for help (remember, his constituents are plotting against Jesus), but before they can get to his daughter, this woman comes out from the crowd and receives healing. The labels change, but you’re either near or far from Jesus.

Without some comprehension of Jesus and his authority as Christ, the disciples have a limited understanding of their own role and purpose. Suzanne Watts Henderson in her study on the story of the sea crossing, (“‘Concerning the Loaves’ Comprehending Incomprehension in Mark 6:45-52”) attributed the disciples’ struggle to their inability to comprehend their own authority over the sea [a symbol of chaos, evil] even as [they share] in Jesus’ calling, mission, authority, kingdom work. Linked to their incomprehension of their own authority is their inability to recognize Jesus walking on the water. Without seeing, knowing, and imitating him, disciples can only grasp part of the kingdom message.

3:14-15. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons

Large crowds are gathering to hear Jesus’ teaching and to receive healing (3:7-8). It’s at this point in the narrative Jesus calls by name twelve of his disciples. This is a calling with a purpose: so that they would be with him, and so that he could send them out to do as he has been doing. Discipleship…Authority…

For disciples to be appointed specifically to be with him is significant in the face of intense opposition. Following the naming of the Twelve (3:14-19), Jesus’ family attempts to take him away, saying he’s out of his mind (3:21,31). (Imagine starting an internship only to find out that your mentor/supervisor is considered crazy by his family and a threat according to the authorities.) To be with him is significant in another way, though. Remember who is in a place to hear explanations of the parables; to witness sick people healed; to hear the demons as they come screeching out of their victims.

The second aspect of the disciples’ commission, that he might send them out, takes place three chapters after they had been appointed (6:7). Finally, the twelve are sent out with authority to do what Jesus has been doing. Note the conflict, though: they go after Jesus was unable to do any miracles in his hometown (6:5). Again, Suzanne Henderson:

“At least from a narrative standpoint, the disciples emerge not as lackeys or as foils to Jesus but as full-fledged participants in the drama of the inbreaking kingdom of God. Indeed Jesus himself has conferred on the disciples both the authority and the responsibility to share in his mission, and, at least in this instance, they [weild] their power well.”

Implications

What was Jesus saying, then, in the kingdom parables that disciples must learn? And now here, dear listener, I’ll expand ‘disciple’ to include each of us. “A man scatters seed [the word] on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (4:26b-27).

And listen again to Isaiah 55, this time beginning with verse 6:

Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. [“your sins are forgiven”] “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

It’s been said that the Markan narrative is about Jesus and his followers. Yet, here is a glimpse into the meaning of the kingdom parables, and who do we see but the One true God. God did and is acting. God sent his Son, who sends the Twelve—these are kingdom actions expected to yield results.

As you hear these words, where are you?

Going with Authority

The way of discipleship as seen through Mark’s gospel appears to be that of consistent failures. Even those closest to Jesus fled at the time of his capture. Peter, the first to speak out that Jesus is the Messiah, denied knowing him three times. If those who followed after Jesus so closely could turn and run, what encouragement do we have? Some say that Mark’s portrayal of the “fallible followers” is, ultimately, a source of encouragement. But it’s only an encouragement when we know exactly who Jesus is.

Who’s your teacher?

Who do you get close to?

Just as the mustard seed begins as a speck and grows to provide shade, the natural order is consistently turned upside-down in God’s kingdom, to the degree that even disciples that can’t seem to get it right are full participants in kingdom mission. (Consider, Judas Iscariot is even said to have fulfilled a purpose, cf. 14:21).

Jesus calls us where we are, and sends us out with authority, when we don’t know exactly what we’re doing. Each one of you are called as his disciples, to go meet with students, teenagers in the coffeeshop, military personnel on the base; to take no iphones or day planners with you; to proclaim an alternate reality, anoint the sick with oil, bless and heal them; cast out demons of fear and annihilate their lies. How is this possible? Because God said so and did so, on the cross, with Jesus. Through His Spirit in you. God’s word does not return empty, without accomplishing what he desires. And we know, that we know, that we know, God’s desires are good.

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