At the mention of the word “disciple”, the image most people conjure up is that of a faithful pupil, a person more than willing to follow the teachings of their leader without question. However, the early disciples didn’t always conform to this stereotype. In fact, they sometimes showed a complete lack of faith, finding it extremely hard to accept Jesus’ word in their hearts.
Jesus appointed twelve disciples to symbolise each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In doing so, it was as if he were replacing the Old Judaism with his new covenant. This symbolised a new, more personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ.
In choosing his apostles, Jesus showed us that the call is open to all of us, as his chosen twelve all had a different trade, and led varying ways of life. With such a mixed group, it is no wonder there were a few differences of opinion. An excellent example is the relationship between Simon the Zealot, and Matthew the tax collector. While Zealots were political freedom fighters, tax collectors were the hated collaborates of the Romans. Therefore you can imagine that tax collectors and zealots, if left to their own devices, were normally sworn enemies. However, Matthew and Simon still managed to live relatively peaceful lives together, putting into practice the commandment “love thy neighbour as thyself”. They were called, and rose to the challenge of that call by their commitment to respond.
It was not necessary to posses any special quality to be a disciple of Jesus, and they were all far from perfect. Take Peter for example, he wasn’t particularly quick-witted. In fact, he often had trouble grasping the message Jesus was trying to get across, as shown in the Parables, where in the Parable of the Sower, (Mark 4:1-9), he found it no easier then the rest of the disciples to understand God’s message. Neither did he have unquestionable faith. He demonstrates this (as did the other disciples) when they were all in a boat together with Jesus in the middle of the Lake Galilee on a particularly stormy night. He and the other disciples became so frantic with worry that they decided to wake Jesus (Mk 4:35-41). Surely, if you cannot feel safe when you have the Son of God asleep in the same boat as you, you never will! Another example of Peter displaying a serious lapse of faith is when he denied Jesus three times, even after as we learn in Mark, chapter 8, taking part in the wholly religious experience of the Transfiguration. Despite all these faults however, and many more, he was still appointed as the first Pope of the Roman Catholic church, and eventually ended up dying for his beliefs (Acts of the Apostles).
At that time, this was not unusual, as many Christians were being persecuted for their beliefs. A man named Mark soon realized that in order to keep the Christian faith alive and strong, he would have to write the Gospel. However, Mark’s Gospel is not a biography. He did not include every minor detail, but only the points about Jesus that he thought were helpful for his community to cope with persecution. For this reason, I will be using Mark’s Gospel as reference material throughout this essay, and also because there is a sense in which Mark’s gospel, with the intention of giving testimony to the Good News, also provides an extremely effective teaching manual for his early church readership.
I have already shown that from Mark’s Gospel we learn that the call to discipleship is open to all, in Christ’s broad selection of people and personalities — ranging from fiery, hard working fishermen, to a tax collector and a political agitator. Mark also shows his readers that a crisis of faith’ is acceptable. After all, if Peter provides the model of Discipleship we all need to remember, it is that it was Peter’s perseverance that got him through hard times. His heart was in the right place, and he didn’t give up!
Mark’s Gospel therefore provides a great deal of information that teaches us about the nature of discipleship, so from reading it we can also choose to respond to what we