Discipleship Essay, Research Paper
In this essay, I am to define the meaning of discipleship, for the first disciples and for Christians today. The word disciple means to learn, but there are many differences between disciples today, and disciples 2000 years ago, in the midst of a hostile Roman Empire. The very first disciples of the resurrection were the holy women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. If Christianity is defined as the belief that Jesus died, and was resurrected, and then to me, these women were the first Christians. Three scared women hunted by the Romans. This is a far cry from today?s Christians, all different colours, creeds, backgrounds and denominations, all over the world.
At the start of Jesus? vocation, he chose 12 disciples. This is very significant, because 12 is the Jewish number of perfection. These 12 were not, as one may expect, “model citizens”, or even senior men of the church, (Pharisees and Sadducees). Among their number, were Matthew, who was Levi, a corrupt tax collector, Simon the Zealot, a murdering terrorist who had killed many Romans, James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were famously quick-tempered and impatient, and last but not least, Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus to the Romans.
The choice of his disciples shows that the kingdom of God is open to everybody, not just “modern day saints” or the violently devout. It showed people of the time that you didn?t have to be perfect, blameless, and sinless to inherit the kingdom of God. It also showed that God forgives everyone, unconditionally, if you repent. This is one of the main themes of Christianity.
“…”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteoud on which they probably grew food. Peter had a wife and mother-in-law to support, Levi, although corrupt, was rich, and Simon the Zealot left his cause. He was a terrorist with the same goal as Jesus, freedom for the Jews. However, at first he chose to fight the cause by violence and murder, before turning to pacifism.
As well as this, they all had friends, and they were all fairly safe where they were. When they left Galilee, they risked violence from other areas. Their thick Galilean accents stuck out like a sore thumb around other people, which deterred travel.
Back then, discipleship, and even just trying to follow Jesus? teachings was a lot more difficult than it is now. Maybe it is because the Christian faith has changed so much since Jesus? time, or maybe we are just lazy, and cur corners, just going through the motions, without actually making any of the sacrifices that this faith demands. Examples of these sacrifices are shown in Marks? gospel:
“…sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me.”
At this the mans? face fell, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:21-22)
“…a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny… “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into to treasure than all the others…she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”
“…they had to be prepared to give up everything…” (Witness in a Pagan World by Eric Johns and David Major).
Jesus was a suffering servant, the Son of Man. For a disciple to be a good Christian, they must be like Christ. Therefore, they must suffer, and serve, and sacrifice.
“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)
“Jesus suffered because he could not go back on the ministry he had been given to do by God. He did not want to suffer, but he was convinced what he preached was right. He prayed “not what I want, but what you want”.” (Dimensions of Christianity by Anne Burke)
To be a true disciple, you still have to live by the rules set by Jesus, 2000 years ago. Many modern day disciples are said to have vocations, (a vocation is a calling, often a religious one, to a certain type of job, or lifestyle), such as priests, or others in the religious orders. A building is just a building, no matter how grand, and a building that represents something is useless without the spiritual beliefs behind it. To enter the Kingdom of God, you must make real sacrifices, like the disciples did, not just make the token effort of turning up to church every so often, and giving your spare change into the collection. To enter the Kingdom of God, you must follow the example of the poor widow, who gave in all she had. A fair part of the Bible is symbolic, and not to be taken literally, as in the case of the snake-dancing fundamentalists of America. I believe that this passage in particular refers to a more spiritual sacrifice; you must give as much time and effort as possible, into helping others less fortunate than yourself.
You must also be loyal and truthful. The “Satan” aspect of Christianity, I believe, is the times when you are tempted to stray from the good Christian life, or when your faith is tested. Archbishop Patrick Kelly?s most difficult time, was when a member of his family was dying, and in great pain. The family member, and Archbishop Kelly, both kept their faith, and Archbishop Kelly believes that this “test” has only made his faith stronger. These are the tests that really define the true nature of discipleship. The easy parts are not the parts that really make your faith stronger. The tests, in which you prove yourself, are the things that will build your character, and make your faith that little bit more solid.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your heart and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
” Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)
“To leave self behind means to put oneself last in all things…” (Marks? Gospel: An interpretation for Today by Robin Cooper)
“…discipleship involves a commitment that demands sacrifice…” (Marks? Gospel: An interpretation for Today by Robin Cooper)
These are the qualities needed to build the Kingdom of God.
Humans are, by their very nature, weak, and all of us fail at some time in our lives. All this suffering and sacrifice, the nature of discipleship, is an immensely gruelling way to live, and so humans would not choose to live their lives as disciples unless there was some sort of incentive, or reward, at the end of it. The reward, Christians believe, is eternal life in heaven. To achieve this, the goal of all Christians, you must live by the guidelines that are given in the Bible.
” Go, sell everything you have to the poor, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17)
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)
“There were great joys and great sorrows attached to being a Christian. Their treasure was in heaven, and they could look forward to everlasting life, even if the Romans could destroy them in large numbers.” (Dimensions of Christianity by Anne Burke)
As I stated in the last paragraph, humans are weak, and we all fail all the time. However, this is not an excuse to give up, or to decide not to try any more, and just make a token effort. To say that you don?t make mistakes is to say that you are perfect, and Christians believe that only God is perfect; even Jesus, as a man on Earth, broke down and cried, and begged that he would not to have to die. So to say you don?t make mistakes, is to commit a sin.
This aspect of the bible, coupled with the faults and previous occupations of some of the disciples, gives Christianity a more accessible front. The idea that God is forgiving, and that if you repent you will be forgiven, helps Christians to be able to continue to strive towards leading a better life, without thinking “…right, that?s it then, I?m going to hell, so there?s no point in trying to redeem myself.”
The challenge of discipleship is to strive to act like Jesus was when he was on Earth. Jesus strived to live up to his values, at times he failed, at times he felt like giving up, but he didn?t. He carried on, regardless of the danger to his own life around every corner. The disciples, again, fail many times during Marks? gospel; most notably in the garden of Gethsemane, when they all fell asleep several times, despite Jesus? request that they stand guard, and after the crucifixion, when Peter, one of the first, denied that he even knew Jesus.
” ?Simon? he said to Peter, ?are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.? ” (Mark 14:37-38)
” ?You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,?… ?I don?t know or understand what you?re talking about? ” (Mark 14:67-68)
“The disciples called by Jesus had the faults of ordinary men…” (Witness in a Pagan World by Eric Johns and David Major)
“When Peter saw the suffering of Jesus, his courage and his faith in Jesus failed him, and he denied any knowledge of him.” (Dimensions of Christianity by Anne Burke)
Throughout Jesus? life, from Herod to Pilate, Jesus? main enemy, or trouble, was the Roman Empire. Their religion was polytheistic; they had, among many others, a god of war, (Mars), a god of wine, (Bacchus), and a goddess of love, (Venus). They also believed that their Emperor, at the time Caesar, was a living God. So they perceived any person who was believed to be above the Emperor, a threat. This included Jesus, one of his titles being “King of the Jews”. He was seen as a rebel by the Roman Empire, and therefore, so were all of his followers.
At the time of Jesus? death, this number was sizeable, and as the early church grew, after the resurrection, the followers grew in number too. This was seen as a rebellion, by a new terrorist group, The Christians. Christianity was outlawed, and so the believers were forced to go underground. Literally. There were lots of underground tunnels and caves under Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and this is where services were held, and the church carried on growing. All of the people who attended these secret meetings, to tell or listen to the tales of Jesus Christ, were disciples. They were risking their lives to spread the good news. Many of them died at the hands of the Romans. They were thrown to the lions, for the sake of entertainment, or were executed. Among these early martyrs, were some of the original 12. Stephen was viciously stoned to death after his great speech at the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), and Peter was crucified.
“…in Palestine in the early 1st century AD Christianity spread rapidly. By the second century the new faith had won adherents in all parts of the empire…Christians were considered antisocial atheists…” (Guinness encyclopedia – extract by Dr Tim Cornell, University College London)
There are many examples of modern day disciples around. One obvious choice to comment on, is a late teacher of mine, Mr John Clarke. More well known examples are easily forthcoming; Martin Luther King was a black Baptist in America. He sacrificed his life to the faith, protesting for black rights in America. He shared his cause with violent terrorist groups such as The Black Power Movement, but he chose the Christian idea of pacifism to promote his cause. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the day after one of his most famous speeches; “…it doesn?t matter with me now, because I?ve been to the mountain-top…I just want to do Gods? will.” Discrimination against Blacks is now confined to extremist minorities, and is also illegal.
Oscar Romero was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador. The people of El Salvador had been, and sadly still are, in a state of extreme poverty, caused by the fact that in Oscar Romero?s Lifetime, 60% of El Salvador was owned by 14 families, that made up 2% of the population. They had a monopoly over the government, the police, the army, and the financial aid coming into the country. People who spoke up disappeared in the night, courtesy of the extreme right-wing death squads. Romero also spoke out, and he was assassinated in mass on 24th March 1980. His death brought the plight of El Salvador to the world.
In this essay I have outlined the basic meanings and duties of discipleship, today, and at the time when Jesus lived. In a way, the challenges and dangers have not changed. Endangering your own life by fighting oppression, injustice, and going up against bigger powers, or giving your life to helping others. There are still some people today who take the faith as seriously as the first Christians do, but not many. I believe that the message has been watered down over the past 2000 years, and many today are not making the sacrifices that were demanded then. Today?s society is too materialistic.