Monday, June 13, 2011

About Those Disciples – SOTM: Part 3

There is a lot of sloppy usage of the term disciple as it applies to those associated with Jesus. One can become confused by the way the term is used today. A disciple is simply a learner, a pupil, a follower. At times Jesus had hundreds, perhaps thousands of disciples. On one occasion he miraculously fed a crowded of them, numbering over five thousand, not counting the women and children present, on five loaves of bread and three fish.

Today, however, when we hear the term, Disciple, we are apt to think of the twelve men whom Jesus selected to be very close to him in life and, after his death, to carry on the work he came to do. Those, we are told very specifically, he designated as apostles.

It is important to know who constituted those disciples who followed Jesus and who were the target of his “Sermon on the Mount” and many of his other teachings.

In the case of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew and Luke both describe large crowds coming to the region of Galilee from as far south as Jerusalem, from the north as far away as Tyre and Sidon, from the Decapolis west of the Jordon, and from all of Syria. No doubt most of those coming were Jews but much of the territory from which they came was inhabited by Greek speaking Gentiles and it is not beyond imagining that some were either non-Jews or, at the least, proselytes to the Jewish religion. The distances covered are astounding, considering that most traveled by foot, some coming from as far away as seventy-five or eighty miles.

The motives of those disciples were mixed. Luke and Matthew emphasize the healings and deliverances experienced at the hand of Jesus. Thousands, it seems, came to receive those blessings or to bring some loved one who needed the touch of Jesus.

We know that Messianic fever ran high in Israel at that time and undoubtedly a part of the crowd was hopeful that they had discovered, at last, the One who would free Israel from Rome’s tyranny. There were Zealots even among the Twelve whom Jesus designated apostles.

But Jesus words, and the crowd’s reaction to his words, indicate that many came, simply to hear him preach. No one in their time preached as he did, with such authority.

And, mixed among the crowds were those who were not disciples, infiltrators sent from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem or from the local synagogues to discover who he was and assess the threat he posed to their leadership.

It was such a crowd that gathered into a flat place, a topos, on the mountainside to hear what has come be the most famous sermon ever delivered. For an ordinary preacher it would have been a heady experience, seeing a crowd like that assembled from distances such as they had come. It would be an occasion to videotape and broadcast to the world in succeeding weeks and months. The sheer numbers themselves would suggest the power and influence he could hope to wield on behalf of important causes around the world. It would be an event to replicate, time and again, on other mountainsides or other venues.

But this preacher knew himself and knew his crowd. He was not sent to build earthly kingdoms. His apostles would never quite understand that, even to the bitter end. (Some modern day disciples still have not grasped it either.) But Jesus could not forget it. He knew as well that the crowd of disciples who relished the loaves and the fishes, and drank in his thinly veiled condemnation of Pharisaic religion would evaporate when he began to talk of “drinking his blood” and “eating his flesh.” So he never gave himself to the crowds.

But it was still early in Jesus brief, three-year, earthly ministry. The crowds were large and fervent, and mostly friendly. Jesus had a kingdom he wanted to tell them of. Some would grasp it and they would be blessed. He did not dream of future, larger gatherings. He saw those few who would grasp his teaching as a mustard seed that would grow into a large tree upon which the birds of the air would someday come and rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment. Comments are moderated and will appear as soon as possible after posting. Follow these steps:
1. Write your comment
2. Select a profile
(Anonymous or Name works best)
3. Select Preview
4. Sign word verification
5. Select Post Comment