The Life of a Disciple in Jesus’ Day
We are so familiar with the 12 disciples that we can often forget that they were ordinary people from varied backgrounds and levels of education who became the spokespeople for the revelations about God as revealed through the teaching of the One we know as Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Perhaps we have an image in our minds of what or who a disciple is. Perhaps we could never imagine that we could even be a disciple in that day and yet it seems that those who came to be known as disciples of Jesus – and particularly the 12 who formed the inner circle – were ordinary folk called from ordinary pursuits and families to follow a teacher who had no permanent classroom and no visible means of support.
For close to 3 years those chosen by Jesus and who chose to accept that decision traveled with Jesus from town to town and village to village observing Jesus through his words and actions. They saw how he healed the sick, cured those suffering from mental disorders and learned things about God and themselves that they had never imagined before. God had always been close to the people, but it had been important people, great prophets, and great interpreters of the faith that had had the ear and the eye of God. Certainly, Jesus was one of these people and yet he was so much more. There were revelations about Jesus, there were acts of Jesus, and there were words from Jesus that the disciples had never heard or seen before. These things stirred something within them that they could not shake. They felt themselves drawn to know more. And through their time with Jesus, he gave them more as he prepared them to carry on the work that he had started.
Looking back from the perspective of time, we have the privilege of reading about all the experiences of these first disciples forgetting that much of what Jesus taught was only shared with those first disciples. Even the Sermon on the Mount which is seen as the blueprint for our lives as the people of God was originally only for the ears of those first disciples. And while the Beatitudes which begin the Sermon have been the source of great comfort to so many people, we need to remember that these words were spoken to those who had made the decision to follow Jesus and his teaching about God. And even more than this, while the good news about God as revealed through Jesus Christ was preached and spread throughout the world, it ever remained that the blessings of that sermon were to be the blessings of those who committed their lives to the disciplined life of a follower of God.
The definition of a disciple is “learner-pupil” and by extension “follower-adherent” of a teacher. Those first disciples made a decision – a decision to be taught by Jesus and then they made a decision to follow Jesus and to adhere to the message he was sharing with them. They made a decision to move away from their families, to leave their steady employment and to pattern their lives according to the words of this teacher. As they followed, they came to understand that they were not just learning about a new way of understanding God and themselves, but they were being groomed to go out into the world as ambassadors to share with others the will of God to bring healing and hope into the lives of all people in the world.
Little is told us of the daily life of the disciples of Jesus. At times we discover the ones who were fishermen plying their trade in order to catch food and even sell the surplus to secure funds to buy other goods; we read of them taking grain from the fields or being part of a miraculous feeding with limited resources. It seems that they often are begging for or borrowing things from others. It is not clear whether those who actively supported Jesus and the disciples were disciples themselves, but they were certainly open to helping them.
In the latter days of Jesus’ ministry, the life of the disciples took on a different facet. Up to the time that they met with Jesus for the last supper – a celebration of the Passover – they were still largely unaware of the fate of their Teacher or of the significance of his death. They had heard about resurrection but had never experienced it. And they certainly had no real notion that they would ever become teachers of others. And so it was that the life of a disciple in Jesus’ day would certainly have had its hardships in terms of loss of family contact, loss of permanent or steady employment and loss of a permanent home or sustenance, the disciples came to know that with Jesus they were part of a new family and they came to know that they could depend on Jesus to provide no matter what.
The trust built up between them and Jesus enabled them to not only find their way through those last days of Jesus’ life with them but it also enabled them to find the strength of mind and body to respond to the mission Jesus was to give them as not just disciples or followers but as ambassadors, as commissioned teachers of God’s new revelation. Scared and confused, they saw the risen Jesus and in that meeting they were given a gift that would give them the wisdom and the strength to continue faithfully following Jesus for the rest of their lives. Jesus resurrection convinced them that everything Jesus had taught them was true. Because of that they could have the courage to answer the call to continue the mission of bringing others to faith in God and encouraging people believe in God. Remember Jesus’ words to them in John 14 where he promised that where he was going, they would be there with him one day. Trust in God, he said and trust in me. And he sealed it with his peace.
What does all this mean for us in the church today? Well, first it means that we – like those first disciples – have been chosen by God and have accepted God’s choice of us. Second, it means that we who have chosen to declare ourselves to be part of a community of Christians have bound ourselves to be followers of God in Christ. Third, it means that we believe in the new life God has revealed in Christ and that we are ready to celebrate that new life whenever we gather as a community to worship and to remember the sacrifice of our Lord in the breaking of bread at our services of communion. Fourth, it means that we affirm for ourselves and share with our children the blessing of God as we bring our children to be baptized as a sign that we believe that God welcomes them and us into his family declaring us all to be sons and daughters of the living God.
You see – at its deepest point – the Christian church is to be the place where disciples of Jesus continue to meet, to learn and practice the truths and duties of Jesus’ teaching about God and where we can encounter the grace, the mercy, and the forgiveness of God. It is also the place where those who are seeking to know this God can come and find God’s people living as God’s people.
A disciple dedicates his or her life to following the one they call Master. For us here the One we call Master is Jesus. May we dedicate ourselves anew or dedicate ourselves for the first time to living the faith we profess and so be the disciples of Christ today!