Were there Tensions among the Disciples?

11 January 2010. Monday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time
1 Sam 1, 1-8; Psalm 116; Mark 1, 14-20

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. The event marked Jesus’ first appearance in public, the beginning of His mission. Today, Mark’s Gospel narrates how Jesus calls his first four followers at the beginning of his ministry. His invitation to them is direct: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” And their response is also immediate: they abandon their boats and follow Him. These fishermen, Simon (later Peter), Andrew, James and John, totally leave their families and their livelihood for a life of discipleship. Jesus’ preaching --- and I assert, His personality --- must have been very powerful for them to drop everything. Among these four, three of them (Peter, James and John) will be at crucial events in the life of Jesus.

Allow me to say more in view of the whole Gospel to coax out a deeper reality and meaning. In the succeeding years, Peter, James and John will be present in four important events in the life of Jesus. Often, these three are the only ones present. The Collegeville Bible Commentary supplies us with these events, “in which he [Jesus] most clearly reveals the power and purpose of his life (healing and giving life in Mark 1, 29-31 and Mark 5, 37-43), the glory-filled Transfiguration, in Mark 9, 2-13; the message about the future times in Mark 13, 1-37.”

But Peter, James and John will also be the ones who will misunderstand him like Peter at Caesarea Philippi in 8, 27-33 (in which Jesus said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan!”); James and John seeking “to be first” in 10, 35-45; all three of them at the Garden of Gethsemane in 14, 32-42; and Peter’s denial in 15, 66-72.

In other words, Jesus’ relationship with these disciples will be marked by tensions and difficulties along the way. For Mark, he precisely invites the readers to consider what discipleship brings. To respond to God’s call is not enough; tensions will build also among those who followed Jesus. Their journey will be marked by both joys and sorrows, clarity and confusion, inspiration and dis-edification. Discipleship then is a continuous struggle. Later, Matthew the tax collector (pro-government) and Simon the Zealot (a rebel) will join the ranks. It is not impossible to imagine arguments coming from both of them.

I often hear the remarks of many people within or outside the Church about those who serve in the church. They tell us how they became disillusioned. When they enlisted themselves in a particular ministry or organization, they thought joining religious organizations was like being in ‘heaven’ when everyone is likable and lovable; they had the impression that people in religious associations work in harmony and peace. Many of them were therefore surprised to find that the negativities of the world are also present within the church. The Gospel today tells us that the closest friends of Jesus were not exempted. The tension within and outside of the ranks were also real.

But we also get from Jesus and the disciples how to keep people together despite their differences. First, they have been united by their only one love: Jesus. It is their affection for Him that brought them together. Second, Jesus also expresses his affection towards them whether through his words or his actions. He calls them, friends. Affection builds people as individuals in a relationship because it is how we care. Third, their journey together as a team is filled with excitement and exhilaration as well as sorrows and pains. They make memories together. When Jesus resurrected, they continued to remember fondly these events. They wrote about these experiences (as we see in the New Testament) and passed them on to the next generation. Memories strengthened the bond between individuals and groups.

The Gospel today tells us that discipleship is a continuing tension and struggle as well as an experience of excitement and meaning. One’s assent to the call of Jesus may be marked by a commitment done in a few minutes (as religious vows or marriage vows) but the journey living them out is worth the ride.

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