We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Organizing the Jesus Mission - Mark 3:13-19 (xxxvii)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 37th in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

In posting #35 of this series (here), we saw that as his ministry developed Jesus faced increasingly large and complex crowds of people. Mark 3:1-12 suggests that the demands placed on him, both emotionally and in terms of time, had become a heavy burden. In this passage, Mark 3:13-19, we find Jesus taking steps to deal with that burden. He called twelve "apostles" and commissioned them to be his companions, to preach, and to perform exorcisms.

New Testament scholars generally emphasize the fact that Jesus called 12 disciples, arguing that this number is symbolic of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Some argue that it was the later church that "invented" the idea of The Twelve to demonstrate that the church is the true heir of Israel. Others contend that the fact that Jesus appointed The Twelve is so widely attested to in early church records that it is all but certain he did establish an inner circle comprised of 12 disciples. Assuming he did, it then becomes reasonable to argue that Jesus himself took the first steps towards the organization of the church. Although there's no evidence to suggest he had a larger purpose than to respond to the pressing needs of his own ministry, he did lay the foundations of what became the church. He selected those who later became the church's first leaders. In this sense, there's a clear line of continuity between the pre-Easter Jesus Mission (or Jesus Movement or Jesus Community) and the post-Easter church.

One can also argue, furthermore, that in choosing an inner circle of 12 disciples Jesus also intended that his movement and ministry be taken as the True Israel. He took this opportunity to assert once again that he faithfully represented the God of Israel. His followers were the true heirs of the nation. This was yet another bold challenge to the over class, which also took itself to be the real heirs and would have rejected out of hand the idea that fisher folk and their ilk could truly inherit God's favor. Jesus conceived the embryonic church, then, as an alternative nation centered on his message of divine compassion for the under class.