The Pattern of Discipleship: Further Reflections on the First Chapter of The Gospel of Mark

In my previous reflection on the first chapter of Mark, I focused on my response to “the Kingdom of God coming near”, suggesting it necessarily be shaped by the following two ideas:
1. Repentance (a turning towards Jesus)
2. Belief in the Gospel of God (living into the “way” which John comes to prepare and that Jesus comes to embody)

We can recognize “The Way” (or the straight path in Mark 1:1) by keeping our sights on the one(s) who have gone before us. In the first 15 verses of Mark’s Gospel, we are introduced to John The Baptist, who comes to model this way of “seeing” by preparing the way for the one who is to follow, the one he calls Jesus.

The transition point between these two figures comes in verses 14 and 15, where John is arrested and fades from the picture in rather stark fashion, and Jesus continues on the straight path in his stead. It is this transition that prepares us for a pivotal point in Mark’s Gospel, the call to discipleship.

Just as John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus now prepares the way for us. This is the way of discipleship, a way that is shaped by the example of Jesus which Mark helps give shape to in the remainder of chapter 1:16-45. As we will soon see, this is a way that is marked as both a movement towards and a call outwards to living the forgiven and the forgiving life that I unpacked in my first reflection.

The Model of Discipleship (Mark 1:16-45)
1. Learning to See
In Mark 1:16 and 17, we find Jesus “turning” his sights towards Galilee in which the first action we encounter is that He “sees” Simon and Andrew”.

Discipleship is about learning to “see” more clearly, both who Jesus is and who Jesus is calling me to be as His disciple. This is what it means to grow into our call as “fishers of men”, is to see and participate in the work of Jesus as we move out into the world as witnesses to the work that Jesus is doing in us.

2. Learning to Follow
Two times in Mark 1:16-20 we encounter the word “follow”.

Discipleship is a movement. Just as Jesus marks his transition on the straight path by moving into Galilee, our discipleship is marked by “following” in the way of Jesus.

Which begs a question. Where are we following Jesus towards? Here Mark uses 1:21-45 to help give shape to the path that Jesus treads before us, a movement that we are called to follow in as disciples of Jesus, or disciples of The Way.

The Pattern of Discipleship: Moving From Word To Witness
As one of the pastors at our Church pointed out this past Sunday, Jesus spends a lot of time in the synagogue and in prayer in Mark’s Gospel. And so the path that Jesus treads begins in a rather counter-intuitive place- in the stillness of the Word. We must be formed by the Word before the Word sends us outwards.

This is where we find the Stillness-Witness movement emerging as a pattern in Mark for helping us understand the nature of discipleship.

– Jesus moves from the isolation of the wilderness (vs. 12-13) to calling the disciples in Galilee (vs. 16-17)

– Jesus moves from the teachings of the synagogue (vs. 21) to the healing narrative in the house of Simon and Andrew (29-31)

– Jesus moves from the desolate place in which he prays (vs. 35) to the towns and all of Galilee (vs. 38-39).

It is in verse 39 that Mark summarizes this movement from Word to Witness,
“And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

This is, I believe, the point of the pattern that Mark seems to lay out for us in his first chapter: Discipleship begins with the formation of the Synagogue (the still places), where we can be shaped by the Word, and moves outwards to the ministry of Jesus to others.

As Mark established in the first 15 verses of his Gospel, this is how we learn to see Jesus on The Way, is by first being forgiven and then learning to forgive. This is the Gospel Way. This is the Way we keep our eyes wholly centered on the one who has gone before us, the Jesus who came to carry the Gospel forward into all the world. This is the way we ensure that we don’t get lost living life out in the world on our own terms and on our own effort.

The Great Reversal
This remains purely subjective, but I can’t help but see some intention in Mark’s closing section of chapter 1, the “Cleansing of the Leper” (vs. 40-45). Where the pattern of discipleship has been set in the previous verses, here we find it reversed. This healing story begins with the busy-ness of the towns, the crowds and the ministry, and then pushes us back out into the desolate place(s) to which Jesus retreats. This is a reversal that reminds us that, no matter how hectic life gets, we must always make time for the what matters most- centering our life on The Way of Jesus. Making time for prayer and the forming Word of God helps us to keep our sights on Jesus and helps us to follow in His footsteps as we move out into a busy and demanding world on the Spirits terms rather than our own.

It is a reversal that reminds us that for as much as The Way calls us towards an outward movement, the work of the Gospel begins as an inward transformation. For as much as discipleships calls us to “follow” in The Way of Jesus, we can only follow Jesus if we encounter him first.

Our Church sent out another reflection question this week to think over as we continue to process the idea of The Way in Mark’s Gospel. The question was simply this:
Jesus appeared to say no to many things in order to say yes to the main thing he was called to be and do. Are you saying yes to so many things that you have lost sight of the big Yes of your life? Is there a next step in saying no to something in order to say yes to the main thing?

Contemplating My Life in the Stillness
As I consider the pattern in Mark 1:16-45, I can’t help but feel how intentional Jesus’ movement becomes. He seeks out the synagogue. He seeks out the disciples and the crowds. He seeks out the desolate places. He seeks out sick. It’s a humbling picture as I also consider just how unintentionally I live my own life on most days.

Another translation for “The Kingdom come near” in verse 15 is “The Kingdom is at hand”. In other words, the time has come to live in the kingdom now, not later. That I waste so much time living unintentionally is not simply humbling, it is convicting.

Which brings me to a second consideration, something that has stuck with me since last Sunday’s sermon. The challenge of discipleship is two-fold: living a fruitful life requires us to make time for stillness and contemplation, but we must also question contemplation and stillness that doesn’t bear fruit out in the world. I’ll be honest, I feel pretty far off the mark in both respects.

But the Gospel is a movement in which the most important thing is continuing to move, and in encouraging myself to move I find it worth considering which part of the pattern I need to move towards in this moment in time. Is it stillness and contemplation (being forgiven) or is it extending mercy and healing to those who need it (the forgiving life). Even as I write this I can feel God’s spirit re-fueling my sense of focus, and so maybe this is the place to start for the moment. This is the place to fix my eyes, once more, on Jesus. But I do so knowing this is not where the pattern ends. This is where it begins.The grateful truth of the Gospel message is that Jesus has gone before me both in the stillness of this moment and out into the places He desires me to move in the remainder of this warm, sunshine filled day. It is simply my job to antcipate and to follow.

So may God continue to direct my footsteps and show me where to head, and may he do the same for each of you, wherever you find yourself in the pattern of discipleship.

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