We are studying Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 14:25-33 for Sunday, March 10. The Mark text is the short story of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him and let Jesus make them into fishermen of a whole different kind. The Luke text is Jesus’ address to the crowds following him to Jerusalem about the uncompromising attitude that following requires. [Study notes on these texts here.] Here are a few questions we might want to consider before or during class:
How do we understand what happens in Mark 1:16-20?
Can we think of any invitation in our own real-life experience that was similar in some way to what happens in this story? What happened to us? How does that experience affect our reading of the story?
How similar is our understanding to that of others? Or, how different? What do we notice, or learn, from those similarities and differences?
Jesus’ call in Mark 1:16-20 is addressed to four specific individuals. Does this seem significant to us? How?
Does Jesus’ invitation to Simon, Andrew, James and John seem different from Jesus’ invitation to others (e.g., look at Mark 1:30-31, or Mark 1:39)? Do we think Jesus was asking for “the same thing” from everyone, or for “different things from different people”? Why do we think this? Does our answer here have any implications for us, today? What are those?
[More personal] What does Jesus seem to be asking of us, or what is Jesus’ invitation to us? Where do we hear this invitation, how, and how are we responding?
In Luke 14:26, :27, and :33, Jesus outlines conditions under which people “cannot be my disciple.” What are these conditions? What do these conditions have in common, do we think?
What do these conditions have to do with the examples Jesus gives in vv28-32?
What do these conditions have to do with us? What is our response to these sayings of Jesus? Why?
I am going to confess here that it is texts like these that make me unwilling to describe myself as “a follower of Jesus.”
I’m not saying I don’t love God and love Jesus and think of myself as a Christian, and even want to do better, honestly. But these texts make all that feel like the difference between going out hiking every so often and being a Sherpa in Nepal.
Furthermore, I am increasingly dubious about the ubiquitous reading of verses 28-32. It seems like these verses are supposed to have some connection to that last condition, “giving up all one’s possessions.”
But does the builder of the tower, or the king with an army of 10,000, either one seem like examples of people who have given up all their possessions? To me they seem more like examples of people who are hanging on to their possessions. In the case of the building, that possessiveness is dissuading the builder from even starting the project, out of a desire not to be shamed. In the case of the king, negotiation seems possible, and in fact desirable – he has something to lose, and something to bargain with.
If that makes sense, then Jesus’ comment about “giving up all your possessions” sounds to me something like “you have to burn all your bridges, you can’t have any other options BUT following me.” That reading would be more consistent with the conditions laid down in vv26 and 27, as well – or so it seems.
Furthermore, if the building of the tower and the contemplating battle are both examples of thinking strategically and planning to win – not to be shamed, not to be defeated – then it seems like Jesus is saying: face it, I [and it follows, my disciples] are walking into certain death. At least, that’s what it looks like. You can’t be one of them if you’re hedging your bets, leaving yourself an out, and thinking you’ll have something to fall back on.
[It took awhile, but I did find an author on the internet who supports this reading, and takes it further theologically, at the Internet Monk.]
So perhaps we’ll want to ponder this matter of being “without options” – in particular, the option of self-reliance – and perhaps ask ourselves whether that seems to describe our own relationship to Jesus or our understanding of Christianity.