David Garland on Discipleship in Mark

February 12, 2022

In preparation to write the Mark study I found a commentary that quickly became my favorite. It is part of the NIV Application Commentary series published by Zondervan. The Mark commentary was written by New Testament scholar David E. Garland. It was published back in 1996 but the work still remains widely relevant. The scholarly level of the work is on point but it is Garland’s savage and witty writing style that I love. His ability to turn a phrase and be thought provoking at the same time, is wonderful. It is as if a ninja and a pirate had a child and that child when too seminary. There was so much material I left out I thought I would give you a taste of his pen. Below are a few choice quotes from the opening chapters of Mark on Discipleship. Below Garland writes on the call of disciples from chapter one highlighting the radical nature of discipleship in Mark.

“Unlike John the Baptizer, Jesus does not wait for people to come to him at some chosen site. He takes the initiative by seeking out followers with the command, “You! Come, follow me!” He does not put up a sign-up sheet (like church softball) asking for volunteers (“Messiah: Interested in a few good men and women”) or post office hours when he will be available to discuss the kingdom of God with those who might be curious. The disciples also do not join him as a pupil might select a rabbi to learn the law and absorb his religious wisdom. Jesus selects his disciples, not vice versa (1:16–20; 2:14; 3:13–14, “those he wanted”). One can conclude from this that becoming a disciple of Jesus is more of a gift than an achievement.” (p.83-84)

“The call and the instant response of these fishermen reveal something of what discipleship to Jesus entails and should shatter our comfortable world of middle-class discipleship. Disciples are not those who simply fill pews at worship, fill out pledge cards, attend an occasional Bible study, and offer to help out in the work of the church now and then. They are not merely eavesdroppers and onlookers. When one is hooked by Jesus, one’s whole life and purpose in life are transformed.”(p.84)

“Discipleship in Mark is not part-time volunteer work on one’s own terms and convenience. One must be prepared to leave everything to follow him. Simon and Andrew turn from their nets; James and John turn from their father and their boat…They had to leave the securities, even their livelihoods, no matter how meager or substantial they were, for something new and unpredictable. The call to discipleship comes as an unreasonable, scandalous demand. It seems too risky, and for those who respond, too reckless. These first disciples are not given time even to transfer whatever equity they have or to put it in trust. Few would make the radical commitment these first disciples made, and most would hope that Jesus might offer a less rigorous category of auxiliary discipleship, which would promise the same rewards while allowing one to continue the pursuit of money and success. “(p.84)

Discipleship in Mark is not about mastering theoretical ideas; it is about mission, a common mission with Jesus (6:7, 30). The disciples in Mark learn on the way with Jesus what discipleship entails. It is on the way that they encounter the power of his miracles and that they learn about suffering (8:27; 9:33–34; 10:32). They are going to be fishers of people, who will be sent out on mission (6:7–13). Just as they cannot drop a sign into the lake announcing “Fish wanted! Please enter net!” and expect much success, so it is with humans. They may not retreat to the safety of the harbor but must go on a voyage into the deep and turbulent waters and cast their nets widely.”(p.86)

“In 1:35–37, the disciples appear more interested in action than prayer. Here Jesus is shown praying before going into action. Busy ministers probably can easily identify with Jesus here. The demands of ministry and church members frequently interrupt study and prayer, and they are tempted to spring into action before preparing their hearts and minds before God. The worst thing that can happen is for them to be temporarily successful because they can delude themselves into thinking that prayer and study are dispensable extras in ministry. The same can be said for the busy parent desperately trying to keep up with hectic family schedules..” (p.86)

From, David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.



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