Marriage teaches us at least as much about ourselves as it does about our partner. It is a relationship that undresses our immaturity, biases, and selfishness in the most accurate way possible: intimate relationship. Our spouse has the careful eyes of someone who sees us as we really are, in the refining fire of every day life.
Conversely, there are marriages where one (or two) of the participants aren’t interested in learning about themselves – confident and comfortable in who they already are. In these cases two things typically happen: 1) the marriage fails or is miserable; 2) the individuals don’t continue to grow as people. Have you ever connected with someone you haven’t seen for many years, and as you talked you began to realize they were exactly the same person they were way back then?
Painful as it may be, there is nothing quite as healthy as someone who loves us unconditionally and wants the best for us. And there is nothing quite so brave as choosing to trust and consider their opinions about us.
The Bible is ripe with examples of close relationships like this. Marriage is the obvious example but the Hebrew culture had a built-in system of teaching and learning: parent to child, elder to youth, rabbi to student. Often these relationships were about learning a trade or skill but that was almost secondary to the practical and didactic instruction. The majority of learning was through observation … do what I do.
The word for someone who learns and grows in God through close relationship is disciple, or in Hebrew talmidim (male), talmidah (female). In biblical times a disciple would leave everything and commit to absolute devotion to their rabbi, to the extent that they would often develop a father-child relationship.
That is what Jesus’ disciples were committing to when they left everything to follow him. They were fulfilling their dreams of becoming talmidim and serving God as they wandered through the countryside learning from his example.
Maybe the world today is thirsty for more disciples who spend their time listening and learning from someone wiser. From Jesus, even. What the world doesn’t need is more angry, unlistening people trying to save the world.
a big deal
Christians take their primary direction from The Great Commission as it is called, where Jesus instructs his disciples to go and make more disciples. Disciples of whom? Jesus.
Unfortunately “Go and make disciples” has somehow been coerced into: ‘Go and find ways to save people by getting them into your church. Then once or twice a week sit them in rows for a spoonful of God.’ (Translation: if you think you can be a disciple just by going to church you’re wrong.)
The intention of the Great Commission is not to make disciples for a theology or doctrine or way of thinking. And we’re certainly not asked to make disciples for ourselves, or for someone else. Allowing charismatic human leaders to be our exclusive teachers causes dangerous results like abuse, narrow theology, twisted ministries, burnt out pastors, spiritually starved people, and evangelicals voting for immoral politicians.
This is a critical distinction. We are asked to bring people to Jesus in order to be his disciples, not ours or anybody else’s. Yes, our christian communities are part of that process but we do a poor job of helping people to understand his exclusivity. We are never disciples of anyone other than him; he is our rabbi, a word that means ‘my master’.
Jesus even warned his disciples about this temptation: “You are not to be called ‘rabbi’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers … Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ” (from Matthew 23 8-10). I don’t think he is talking so much about titles as he is about who has our eyes and ears.
Think about it: the best way to learn to be like Jesus is to be with him, daily, closely, in every circumstance. And that is what we have permission to do.
A few days ago I was in the garage building some shelving and thinking (at the same time!) and I began to consider how very different my priorities and beliefs are now compared to when I was younger. And I wondered how I would answer if somebody asked me why I had changed so much. In a split second one answer jumped up and stood at the front of my brain: Jesus.
Not to say I have arrived, but maybe that’s the point – I know I will never arrive and so I keep digging. I’ve stumbled and staggered through much of my spiritual life, as many of you have. But as I lurched along – changing, re-thinking, re-working what I believed – I always knew that my allegiance was to Jesus alone. I can think of times (two major ones) when I made ridiculous life-changing decisions simply because he was my rabbi and I had to listen.
The first church sermon I remember delivering on a Sunday morning (25 years ago?) was based on John 13:31-38. In this passage Jesus hints to his disciples that he will be physically leaving them but they will be okay. This makes no earthly sense to them and they are resistant to his plan.
Peter impetuously asks, “Why can’t I follow you now? I will even lay my down my life (soul) for you.”
Jesus challenges him, “Will you really lay down your life (soul) for me?”
And there is our challenge. Will we really give our lives … our living, for him? Will we give ourselves to the ways of the rabbi Jesus and call him Master, or is there someone else we listen to more? Do we really want to be with him daily or are we happy with occasionally?
I guess that’s why it’s called a journey.