Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 10, 2005
Jesus led – did not command – his disciples
Redemptorist priest guides his audience along Jesus' path
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
When the evangelists speak about Jesus, they speak about a man who speaks with authority, an authority that is different, unusual and gentle.
Unlike pagan authority, which was lorded over people, Jesus never made his authority felt, said Father Denis McBride, a Redemptorist priest from Scotland.
"People who have authority have authority and it's obvious who has and who hasn't," McBride said at Scripturefest 2005.
"And lording it over other people is something that Jesus explicitly commands his disciples to avoid."
When it comes to discipleship in the Gospel, it is not easy to get a precise handle on when it starts.
Mark says that after John the Baptist is arrested, Jesus went back up north to Galilee. He was walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, and said to them: "Follow me."
"Now what is that? Is that an invitation or a command?
"Follow me is in the imperative tense and the first thing he offers them is a change of identity," McBride said.
"If you follow me, I will make you into someone else, whoever you are. That's the promise."
His first followers are not poor. They come from families that can afford to employ people and still they follow him. Mark underlines "they went after him," noted McBride.
"They don't go after an idea. They don't go after a job description. And they don't go after even a mission.
"They go after him. They go after the relationship."
McBride, a lecturer and writer on the Gospels, is currently director of courses at Hawkstone Hall, an international centre for spiritual renewal in England. He has published eight books on Jesus and the Gospels.
He gave four talks on the Gospels Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at Ukrainian Youth Unity Centre, including Discipleship in Hard Times, where he exposed the vulnerability of Jesus.
More than 150 people took in the event, which was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
Luke has Jesus begin his mission at home in Nazareth "and it's a total disaster," McBride told his audience. People simply "don't buy" his new identity.
A prophet in his own country
"They remind themselves who he was. They say. 'But we know this guy. His brothers and sisters are here. Who does he think he is?'"
They didn't accept him because he was one of their own. "And, as Luke says, they took him up to the top of the hill and they try to throw him over," McBride related. "Jesus' first mission ends in disaster and he runs away."
He goes to a totally different world, a border town in Galilee, where people bring the sick to him and he cures them. "The people there love him - but of course they don't know him."
They offer him a job as a town chaplain but he declines and goes down the Jordan Valley alone to Judea.
According to John's Gospel, Jesus doesn't call his disciples. "He does not command them. They follow him on their own initiative because they are attracted by him.
"And he sees them following him and he stops, turns around and says, 'What are you looking for?' They ask, 'Where are you going?' And he says, 'Come and see.'"
John believes any relationship with Jesus has to involve "attraction or fascination," which can move in different directions.
Sometimes that initial attraction is lost. It happened to some of Jesus' disciples. One day, as he taught about the bread of life, they left him.
"But Jesus doesn't run after them. When he turns to his disciples he asks one of the great questions of discipleship - do you want to go away too?"
Envy also leads people to destroy what first attracted them. "Mark says the chief priests handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate because they were jealous of his power."
Then there is desire.
"There are some people in the Gospel whose attraction moves into desire, which moves into discipleship," the priest said.
"These are the people who do not want to go home; who want to stay. They want to become an apprentice to this person, to attach themselves to what attracts them. And that's what you call discipleship."
The story of attachment during the public ministry of Jesus shifts dramatically into a story of separation and loss, McBride related in his last lecture.
Question of faith
"Jesus becomes an embarrassment.
"It's easy to follow a leader who is in control, who has power, who makes things happen, who speaks with authority, who heals the sick, who confronts religious authority. But what happens when your leader is led away and handed over? What happens to your discipleship?"
Mark begins the passion story focusing not on Jesus, but on the community. Jesus is walking along a valley and stops in a graveyard for a meeting with his disciples.
"All of you will be scandalized by me," he told his followers.
At the meeting Peter promised to "never, ever" lose faith even though he no longer accepted the word of Jesus.
Out of the Apostles Jesus takes his three favourites, including Peter, and tells them what's going wrong.
"He has great anxiety. He begs them to stay awake and then goes off by himself."
Mark draws a picture of the gradual alienation of Jesus from his own people. "Jesus is alone," McBride related.
"He is lying on the ground and he begs the Father to get him out. He wants out. He expresses his own will but he doesn't know what the will of the Father is, which is why he is praying."
He goes back to get help from his friends and they are asleep. "But I don't think Mark means they are snoring," noted McBride.
"If you are waiting to be arrested there is one thing you probably cannot do and that's sleep. It's not the sleep of snoring; it's probably the sleep of ignoring.
"Dear friends, who wants to see their leader lying on the ground begging God to get out? It's not an image that promotes confidence. Leaders are supposed to lead."
When the arresting party comes, the disciples are not sure what to do, so they start a fight.
"And Mark says there was a young fellow wearing only a loin cloth and when the arresting party tries to get hold of him, he is so desperate to get away he leaves them with his laundry.
"And the last image you have of male discipleship in Mark's Gospel is a bare bum running in the dark.
"That's the last time you will see the disciples as a group. It's a tragic-comic end."
When Jesus told the disciples "follow me," they dropped their nets to follow him.
"Now, Mark says, they will drop everything to get away from him."
McBride said the image of Jesus that has endured for 2,000 years is that of Jesus the vulnerable one.
One great example of this for McBride is Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was killed by the military for speaking up for the poor and the oppressed 25 years ago.
Like Christ, Romero made the decision (to stay in San Salvador and not go to Rome) knowing the decision would be his death, McBride said.
A photo shows the archbishop's body slumped over the altar.
"His body fell on top of the chalice so when you saw the blood on the altar, you didn't know what was the blood of Christ and what was the blood of Romero," the Redemptorist said.
"It's a very moving image of two passion narratives coming together, exploding into one."