Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Leaving Their Father (part 3 of 3)

Is the call from Jesus to follow Him, combined with an account of leaving a father behind the extent of the similarities to the call of Abraham?  Of course not.  That would hardly be enough of a basis from which to build a credible argument.  Considering that God’s redemptive plan for His creation begins with Abraham, climaxes with Jesus and is to be continually carried out through His disciples, there must be far more points of contact between the Abrahamic covenant and the call to discipleship.  Fortunately, there are. 

Returning to Mark’s Gospel, we venture to the third chapter, and there find that Jesus “appointed twelve (whom He named apostles), so that they could be with Him and He could send them to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.  He appointed twelve” (3:14-16a).  The duplication of “appointed twelve” could easily be heard as an emphasizing of the re-gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel.  As God ordained Israel to be a light to the nations, so too Jesus has ordained twelve to the same end.  Naturally, any implicit references to God’s covenant with Israel also carries with it an implicit reference to the Abrahamic covenant, as there is no Israel without Abraham, and there would be no Mosaic covenant without the Abrahamic covenant. 

So as we understand the Abrahamic mental triggers that would be pulled by the appointment of twelve, we can make a rather broad analysis based on what Mark says next.  If the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are in mind when Mark writes “so they would be with Him and He could send them,” then this is yet another recapitulation of the charge to Israel, for God had promised Israel that He would dwell among them if they carried out His commandments.  Ultimately, this dwelling among them would be for the purpose of their revealing His glory to all peoples.  Certainly we can see this as Israel both being with their God and being sent by their God.  If that is the case, then we are forced to revert further to that which is foundational to Israel’s relationship with their God, which is the promise to Abraham. 

In Genesis twelve, following the directive to “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you” (12:1b), from which we could infer a being with (I will show you) and a sending out (go out from), we hear “Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing” (12:2).  This could very well serve to round out what Mark intends to convey with his talk of the disciples being with Jesus to be sent by Jesus.  It is not difficult in the least to here create one of those points of contact between the Gospel narrative and the Abrahamic covenant.  The disciples being with Jesus is functionally equivalent to God’s making Abraham into a great nation, blessing him, and making his name great, which clearly leads us to comfortably assert that the sending of the disciples to preach and to have authority to cast out demons is an exemplification of divine blessing. 

Turning again to Matthew, we find the same motif at work, as the tenth chapter commences with a record that “Jesus called His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness” (10:1).  After an interlude in which Matthew takes the time to name the disciples as part of his narrative that will be primarily communicated orally, we can pick up at the fifth verse and find that “Jesus sent out these twelve” (10:5a).  Clearly, conceptions concerning the Abrahamic covenant are again at play, with this mindset having been created by speaking about the leaving of a father (in the fourth chapter), along with the general Abrahamic mindset held by the people as part of their self-definition and self-understanding.  After restricting them, at this point, to the land of Israel, Jesus further instructs them to preach that “The kingdom of heaven is near!” (10:7b)  This actually makes sense of the temporary limitation of the message to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6b), as this message of the kingdom of heaven being near would not be comprehensible to Gentiles.  In a sense then, this is part of the “being with Him” that we saw in Mark. 

Jesus describes the activities that would exemplify divine blessings to be carried out in their sending, by saying “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  Freely you received, freely give” (10:8).  Then, a little bit later, and just in case we were doubting that the story of Abraham is in mind, Jesus is reported to have called to mind the story of Abraham and Lot, doing so in relation to Sodom and Gomorrah.  He effectively describes the story, before making this explicit at the very end, by adding “Whenever you enter a town or village, find out who is worthy there and stay with them until you leave.  As you enter the house, give it greetings.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or town.  I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town” (10:11-14).  

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