Radical Discipleship in Mark (Part 2)

by Jan 22, 2022Discipleship0 comments

Jesus’ Approach to Discipleship

The theme of discipleship is all over Mark. Mark teaches his readers about discipleship in three ways. 1.) recounting Jesus’s teaching on the subject, 2.) narrating different accounts in which Jesus invites various individuals to follow him. 3.) retelling the example of Christ. Jesus’ style of life reveals the content of discipleship. What discipleship demands, Jesus himself lived out. Jesus’ followers are to reflect his character, especially in self-denying, cross-bearing discipleship (8:34–38). Jesus knew the cost and yet denied himself in order to fulfill God’s will (14:36, 39). Our Lord modeled in every way what we are to be and do. He serves in humility without regard to self, and even in suffering so too must his disciples (10:42–45; 8:34). In Mark, discipleship looks like an apprentice relationship with Jesus. Two observations of Jesus’ discipleship method in Mark.

(1.) An apprentice is called to be with a master so that they may hear, see and follow the way of the master. An apprentice spends his days helping the master in the skill the apprentice wants to learn. Mark draws a straight line between the ministry of Jesus and that of his disciples, expressing a causal relationship between the two. In short, they are to be with Jesus. As Jesus is with the Father, so his disciples are to be with him (3:13). Discipleship is associated with, if not defined by, simply being with Jesus (3:13, 3:34; 4:10). It is life on life discipleship within the community Jesus was forming around himself. The disciples were to be hearing him (4:1–20), and following him “on the way” (1:16–20; 10:52). The simple but all-important act of hearing and following Jesus in apprenticeship precedes the disciples’ complete understanding of him. Thus, being with Him was more important than disciples’ complete understanding of him.

(2.) An apprentice learns a skill by learning to be like the master of the skill. In doing what the master does with the masters helpful insight often after a failure, the apprentice gains the experience necessary to skillfully do the job before him. An apprentice does the stuff before they fully know what they are doing. The disciples are shown to possess a lack of understanding, yet this does not compromise their discipleship. In spite of it, Jesus empowers the disciples to undertake his own ministry of proclamation and power over the forces of evil (3:14; 6:7–13). Jesus is willing to let them do the stuff so that they may learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes. This creates an atmosphere of trial and error learning that promotes skillful learning of a task rather than just proficiency in a task. Jesus was making Christians (christ-like people), not just informing them on a subject matter. Jesus‘ willingness to send them out on mission even while they lacked understanding and even though they showed hardness of heart (8:14–26) gives evidence of the apprentice model.

What Jesus has to teach can only be taught in an apprentice relationship, which necessitates the disciples’ being with him, learning to do the stuff, more than their full understanding of him. Jesus knew the understanding would come. He would even oversee the implementation of that understanding himself for 40 days after the resurrection. The closing words to Albert Schweitzer’s monumental work The Quest of the Historical Jesus is indicative of Mark’s view of discipleship.

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake- side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill in our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (1)


(1) Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (trans. W. Montgomery; New York: Macmillan, 1950), 403.