Friday, April 20, 2012

Disciples As Abraham

As we hear or read the Biblical stories of Jesus as individuals fully ensconced within the story of Israel, it becomes undeniable that Abraham and God’s covenant with him are in view as Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John (to an extent) tell the Gospel stories of Jesus’ calling of His disciples, that Jesus Himself is relying upon a broad-based Abrahamic covenant-shaped worldview to inform the response to His words and deeds, and that this is functional for informing our perspective on the narrative.  Not only that, but it should become clear, as we take a wide angle view of what is going on if this is the case, that one of the points being made is that a disciple of Jesus, then and now, is called to be for the world what Abraham (and ultimately his descendants) were called to be for the world.  Abraham and his descendants were to be the means and the mediators by and through which the Creator God enacted His plan to redeem the world.  In essence, it could be said that the disciples were called to be living embodiments of Abraham. 

It bears repeating here then, that all disciples of Jesus---those that join Him in the way that He is marking out for the enactment of God’s kingdom in and for this world---are called to be Abrahams.  To what can we look to make that point?  There is a portion of Matthew’s narrative that we can include in our argument for this assertion that aids in the building of our case.  Comparing the call of Abraham with the call of disciples, it is not at all surprising to find it included almost directly and immediately following the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John, with the additional information that James and John left their work and their father and followed Jesus.  It must be said that mentioning a call by Jesus, who was being recognized and worshiped as God by the author of Matthew (who is constructing his historical narrative not necessarily as a chronological biography, but constructing his narrative in a certain way and for a certain purpose to communicate certain facts about the activity and nature of the God that is being more thoroughly revealed by Jesus), and adding the leaving of a father as a response to a summons, is sure to call Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant to mind. 

In rounding out his fourth chapter, Matthew describes Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee, and concludes by telling us that “large crowds followed Him” (4:25a).  Then,  coming to the beginning of the fifth chapter, we read that “When He saw the crowds, He went up the mountain.  After He sat down His disciples came to Him” (5:1).  While we are tempted to notice the Moses motif that is also being laid into the narrative (teaching from a mountain, mentioning the law and recounting some of the “ten commandments”), we merely keep it in mind while remembering the more foundational and perhaps wider-ranging Abrahamic context.  Though there are large crowds following Jesus, the author, very specifically, says that “His disciples came to Him.”  Though there were most likely more than just the four called and named disciples at this point, making mention here of the disciples, having just presented the calling of the first four, must be completely purposeful. 

What does Jesus do?  “He began to teach them” (5:2).  What does He say?  He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (5:3-6).  With a call from Jesus, the leaving of a father, words that are presented as being directed to those called---which are the disciples (though obviously there is a much larger audience present), and now this talk of “Blessed are…”, it is nigh impossible to not hear God speaking to Abraham (after he had heard “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you”) and saying “Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.”  Verses three through six clearly spell out God’s directing of blessing to the called one’s of Jesus, with them being given a nation (kingdom of heaven), comfort, and an inheritance (here, we think about the promise of an heir to Abraham and that which would be possessed by his descendants). 

Of course, Jesus did not stop there.  He continued on to say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (5:7-9).  Here, we can see that blessings are now bi-directional.  This sends us back to God’s words to Abraham in Genesis, in which Abraham was told “I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing.”  Certainly, we can see that these three uses of “Blessed are…” are outwardly directed, in that Jesus’ called ones are to demonstrate mercy and purity of heart, while being peacemakers.  By this, they will exemplify divine blessing and be sources of divine blessing for the world, while also continuing to be blessed by God (also an exemplification of divine blessing, which obviously works on two levels), in that they will receive mercy, see God, and be called children of God. 

Jesus continues, saying “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad because of your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way” (5:10-12).  Does not this strike a chord in similar fashion to what Abraham was also told, which was “I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse”?  Beyond that which we see in chapter twelve of Genesis, this talk of a great reward in heaven reminds us of the fifteenth chapter of Genesis and where God speaks again to Abraham and says, “Fear not, Abram!  I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance” (15:1b).  For sake of context, this follows the account of Lot being captured and Abraham defeating his captors to rescue Lot, after which he received the blessing from Melchizedek (persecution, blessing, and reward). 

Finally (for our purposes), Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth…  You are the light of the world… let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (5:13a,14a,16).  What rounded out God’s first words to Abraham?  “All the families of the earth will bless one another by your name.”  Abraham was called to be salt and light in a way that would reveal God’s glory and gather to Him the praise that He deserves---the abounding of blessing at the hand of God being quite obvious as it flows out in all directions.  The disciples of Jesus were called to do and effect the same. 

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