Discipleship

Last week we found ourselves with Jesus in the wilderness in the gospel of Mark. I’m fascinated by what happens after that, so follow along in the book of Mark for a moment. After Jesus’ time in the wilderness getting grounded in the Spirit and, I believe, understanding himself and his path a bit better, he returns to begin his ministry, preaching and teaching the “Good News.” In the very next story in Mark, Jesus starts gathering disciples beginning with the brothers Simon and Andrew, and the brothers James and John.

Then there are five stories of Jesus’ healing people:Discipleship-Blog-Banner

  • Person with an “unclean spirit” (1:25)
  • Simon’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever (1:31)
  • Many people who were sick with diseases, and cast out many demons (1:34)
  • Person with leprosy (1:41)
  • Paralyzed person (2:11)

(For the full video version, click here.)

Which brings us to our reading for today in which Jesus is walking by the lake, presumably in Capernaum, sees Levi sitting in his tax office, and says to him, “follow me.” The next thing you know, Jesus is reclining to eat at Levi’s house with a crowd of tax collectors, notorious “sinners,” his disciples, and even some of the religious leaders of the Pharisee sect.

The Pharisee is a little put off by eating dinner with a bunch of lowlifes and turns to one of Jesus’ disciples and asks, “Why does the Teacher eat with these people?”

Overhearing the question, Jesus declares, “People who are healthy don’t need a doctor; sick ones do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous.”

I have two thoughts on his response. First, I suppose it could be taken as a compliment to the Pharisee, who might then think he’s the healthy, righteous one who doesn’t need Jesus. OR, Jesus is really saying this sort of tongue-in-cheek: “I’m not here for those of you who think you are healthy and righteous, because you think you’ve got it all figured out already and won’t be able to hear a word I’m saying. You may not think much of these other folks, but they will be open to my teaching.”

Regardless, I find the progression of events in Mark interesting. Jesus performed a series of healings then compares himself to a doctor coming to help the sick. But the people sitting around the table aren’t ill, in this case it is a sickness where one has lost their way in life. Their attitudes, behaviors and treatment of others has led them down a dark road. They have lost themselves.

From my viewpoint the crux of the matter is that Jesus came to heal – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, tells the story of a teacher who traveled with great difficulty to a faraway monastery because there was an old monastic there who had a reputation for asking very piercing spiritual questions. “Holy One,” the teacher said. “Give me a question that will renew my soul.” “Ah, yes, then,” the old monastic said, “your question is, What do they need?”

The teacher wrestled with the question for days but then, depressed, gave up and went back to the old monastic in disgust. “Holy One,” the teacher said, “I came here because I’m tired and depressed and dry. I didn’t come here to talk about my ministry. I came here to talk about y spiritual life. Please give me another question.” “Ah, well, of course. Now I see,” the old monastic said, “in that case, the right question for you is not, What do they need? The right question for you is, What do they really need?”

If Jesus were answering that question, “What do people REALLY need?” what would be his response? What was he teaching his disciples?

Chittester comments that discipleship often requires some sort of “academic or ascetic exercise.” In other words, learn something or refrain from doing something. In addition, it seems like (for many people) discipleship also implies blind obedience. But what do people really need for their spiritual lives?

In my humble opinion, it’s not obedience. Discipleship, following Jesus is not about obedience to creeds, laws, religious texts, rituals, traditions, or other formulas designed to get one to heaven. I don’t recall Jesus ever instructing anyone memorize bible passages or the 10 commandments or the 613 Jewish laws.

 

So, what do people really need?

I think people need support in being like Jesus, who was a healing presence in this world.

One day the Buddha was threatened with death by a bandit on the road. “First,” the Buddha said to the bandit, “honor my last with and cut the branch off that tree.” “There,” the bandit said, handing the branch to the Buddha, “whatever good it will do you now.” “Correct,” said the Buddha. “So please put the branch back on the tree again.” “You must be insane,” the bandit said, “to think anyone could do that.” “Oh, on the contrary, my friend,” the Buddha said. “It is you who are insane if you think you are mighty simply because you can wound and destroy. The mighty are those who spend their strength to create and to heal.”

This is what discipleship is about. Not obedience, but about being a creative and healing force in the world – for ourselves, our relationships, our systems and our environment.

What does this look like? Here’s a start…

  • Listening to someone who is hurting
  • Seeking understanding instead of judgment
  • Being inclusive, welcoming and accepting
  • Sincerely apologizing when we’ve done something wrong
  • Offering forgiveness when we’ve been wronged
  • Holding someone when they cry
  • Working for justice
  • Showing kindness and gentleness
  • Being generous
  • Recycling
  • Going to therapy to help heal yourself

I don’t care (and I don’t honestly think Jesus cared) what you specifically believe or what religion you follow, as long as you live your life as a healing presence, walking the path of love, compassion, kindness and justice.

Lenten blessings,

Kaye

Choices

This coming Wednesday is commonly known in the church calendar as Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. From Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, minus the Sundays in between (because they are supposed to be “little Easters”) is 40 days, meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to his public ministry.choices

The story of those 40 days in the wilderness is about the mental, physical and spiritual preparation that Jesus goes through in order to be ready to preach and teach the Good News of God.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In Megan McKenna’s book, Lent: The Sunday Readings, she states:

[T]he temptation in the wilderness story is short and powerful. The Spirit sends [or drives] Jesus out toward the desert… The desert in the Jewish tradition is the place of transition between slavery and oppression and the making of a people into the children of God ready to enter into the promised land of their dreams. It is a period of testing, of letting go of what was before so that what is to come can enter into them… It is also a time of privilege, of intimacy with God alone, who leads and teaches them in the deepest recesses of their hearts so that they come to know that home is where God is within them.

But in this wilderness time of learning, growing, and changing, there is a tension that needs to be worked out: the tension between the voices of the world and the voices of the Spirit. The figure of Satan (which in Greek simply means Hinderer) is the characterization of these voices of the world tempting Jesus with the illusory things of the world. Now, it seems to me that for Jesus to have been the deeply centered, grounded, consistent and stable spiritual leader he was, there had, at some point, to have been conscious choices on his part about how he’d live his life, how he’d make decisions, and how he’d treat other people. The story of Jesus in the wilderness offers us one possibility to how he found that center.

Here’s a proposition… what if we each made these 40 days of Lent a conscious walk in the wilderness for each of us? What if we became more conscious of the decisions we make on a daily basis? What if we pay attention to the tension present in those decisions between the ways the world calls us and the ways the spiritual path calls us?

Think about this tension for a minute. What are the things we choose between?

What do the voices of the world sound like?

  • Greed – you need more…
  • Power – you should have control…
  • Judgment – you’re better than them…
  • Sloth – what’s the point in trying…
  • Complaining – life sucks…
  • Elitism – you deserve…
  • Selfishness – you first…
  • Jealousy – they can take away what you have… 
  • Envy – they have something you don’t…
  • Fear – you can’t…
  • Violence – an eye for an eye…
  • Anger – don’t let them get away with that…
  • punishment – you should make them pay for that…
  • Self-loathing – you’re not good enough…

And what do the voices of the Spirit sound like…

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Understanding
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Helpfulness
  • Hope
  • Trust
  • Equality

So… when we’re in a position to respond to a situation or person, our wilderness time calls us to first to check out which list we’re responding from.  And it is awesome each time we can choose to respond from the Spirit list. But, then things get a little trickier. You see, it is possible for our actions to be spiritual choices, but inside the voices of the world are grumbling. For example, you can give $5 to a homeless person on the street, while inside you’re judging them by condemning their dirty clothes, their laziness and you’re thinking they’ll probably just use the money to buy alcohol. Our generous outsides don’t match our judgmental, complaining insides.

I believe part of the goal of the spiritual life is for our insides to match our outsides the way Jesus’ insides matched his outsides.

I encourage all of us to use this time of Lent to work on being consciously aware of the tension and temptations that confront us daily, then to choose well. Perhaps if we make the spiritual choices long enough, our insides will begin to change to reflect our actions. It’s not easy, and it’s more than a 40 day process, but Lent is a good excuse to start.

Blessings,

Kaye