We had a good evening yesterday. We were completing Mark 6 - one of the key chapters in the first half of Mark's story. It marks the end of Jesus' public ministry in Galilee. From chapter 7 he'll be travelling in the further reaches of Israel, the mixed territories to the north and east of Herod's territory.
Full notes on the passage can be found here (click the downloads section and follow the link). I just want to comment on a couple of aspects of discipleship that I highlighted last night because I think they're interesting and often not prominent in our conversations about following Jesus.
Jesus uses the politically charged episode of the feeding to teach some intensely personal lessons about discipleship, one of which is that disciples need to learn to accept responsibility for what's going on around them.
Five thousand blokes had turned up spoiling for an uprising because the Twelve had been out preaching up a storm in the towns and villages of Galilee. But as soon as a need arises - these people need feeding - the disciples tell Jesus to send them away to find food somewhere else.
Jesus says to the twelve 'you give them something to eat'. This is, of course, not his last word on the issue. But it is important that it's his first word.
It highlights the fact that discipleship is as much about a new relationship with the world as it is about a new relationship with God. In Hebrews 2 the author reflects on Psalm 2, a picture of how people were created to steward, manage the creation but have clearly failed. The world is in a mess and human stewardship of it is largely to blame.
The author points to Jesus, however, who is a trail-blazer in the restoration of the human stewarding of creation. He doesn't do this alone, he brings others with him to share his rule(Hebrews 2:5-18). And that is what Jesus is doing in Mark 6:37. He is pointing out that part of being a disciple is to accept responsibility for what is happening in the world, responsibility for being part of the solution, having been rescued from being part of the problem.
We don't emphasise this aspect of discipleship often enough, preferring instead to play up those aspects of relating to God that result in good things coming into our lives - forgiveness, new life, hope, the holy Spirit, etc. And these are indeed good. But they are not the whole story.
The idea that we are called to accept responsibility for what is happening around us because we are called to share in Christ's reign, can be seen in Paul's emphasis on Christians being people who do good works (Eph 2:10; titus 2:11-14, etc), Peter's teaching on the soft difference being about doing work in the world that demonstrates the effectiveness of the gospel in creating a people who embody the good values that everyone aspires to but can't live out.
The rest of the ABC of discipleship flows those this acceptance of our responsibility, namely, that we bring to Jesus what we have (not what we don't have - so we're realistic about what we can do) and we co-operate with him in making a difference. All this grows from a deepening awareness of who Jesus is, something the 12 got a glimpse of in the next story, namely Jesus walking on the lake and revealing himself to be not just the one who distributes miraculously multiplied loaves, but the one who does the maths.
This why there's a twin references to loaves in 38 and 52. The depth of the disciples' incomprehension about Jesus is focused on what the loaves should have told them about him.
it seems to me that these are lessons about discipleship we need to learn for the times in which we live.