Jesus Expects Disciples to Inhabit the Kingdom

I indicated yesterday that I’ve been puzzling over Mark 4:35-41 lately. Mark doesn’t indicate what the disciples should have done, so we can’t say with certainty. From the larger context, however, it appears that Jesus was expecting them to calm the storm themselves.

If this sounds outrageous, keep in mind that to this point Jesus has been announcing the kingdom of God, declaring that the reign of God has invaded the realm dominated by Satan and demonic powers. This invading and emerging realm is bringing with it the healing of creation and of humanity. God’s original commission to humanity was to exercise rule and dominion over creation, overseeing its flourishing and managing its life-giving and humanity-sustaining capacities.

Humanity has failed to rule creation for the glory of God, but this is precisely what Jesus has been doing in his ministry. Yes, he is God himself, but he is also the true human. He is overseeing the spread of God’s rule of shalom wherever he goes, freeing people from demons and sickness and calling everyone to enter the life-giving kingdom of God. And he has called the disciples to be “with him,” to partner with him in spreading God’s rule and calling others to enter it.

Rembrandt

Rembrandt, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Storm_on_the_Sea_of_Galilee)

 

A clear instance of Jesus expecting his disciples to do the impossible comes in Mark 6. The miracle in which Jesus fed five thousand people with a few fish and loaves was supposed to be done by the disciples. Jesus challenges them in Mark 6:37 to feed the many thousands who have come to hear him.

And he is right to expect that his disciples could perform such a feat since they had just returned from a months-long mission during which they themselves cast out many demons and healed many who were sick (v. 12). Because they are with Jesus, they have access to the miracle-working power of the kingdom of God. They have seen it in action and Jesus here expects them to live into the fullness of it.

The disciples, like the rest of us, have well-worn patterns of responding to crises from within the realm of darkness and (self-)destruction, responses of fear and of failing to live into the reality of the kingdom. One of these responses to get out of the way and hope and pray that God will act. But God asserts his sovereign rule through humans whom he invites to embody his benevolent and life-giving rule through new creation oriented patterns of life. Mark narrates here how Jesus expects his disciples to begin to embody God’s rule by drawing on the power available to them.

 


7 responses to “Jesus Expects Disciples to Inhabit the Kingdom

  • Richard

    Absolutely. You see it also when Jesus is walking on the water and Peter says ‘Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you’ and Jesus doesn’t reply, ‘This is Messiah-only stuff, Peter’ but rather ‘Come’, to share in his triumph over all forces of chaos and disorder.

  • Tim Cole

    Fair question, professor.

    I also am working through Mark’s Gospel on Sunday AM.

    We have moved into chapter 9 as of now.

    It appears that Mark reserves the big question of Jesus’ identity–who do you say that I am–until the middle of the entire narrative for good reason. Each of the prior narratives (such as 2:1-5, ‘who can forgive sins except God alone?’, 4:35-41–‘who is this…?’) are compositionally arranged to help the disciples (and readers) arrive at the correct answer for themselves. Let the facts about Jesus speak for themselves as they are viewed in an eyewitness context.

    I fail to see Jesus putting pressure on the disciples to perform the miracles he performed. He got them involved–to be sure–but for reasons of persuasion, persuading them about the nature of his true identity. They appear not to ‘get it’ until the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel.

    The two-stage healing of the blind man (unique to the Gospels; 8:22-26) is placed right before Peter’s confession to show that the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ identity also comes in stages.

    Before the disciples can ‘share in his triumph’, and perform their own power demonstrations, they first must come to know just who Jesus is: The one and only Annointed One of God (8:29) . Then, and only then, are they prepared to hear about a rejected, murdered, and resurrected Messiah and the requirement to carry a cross of their own (8:31-32).

    And, even after a partially correct answer given by Peter, the concept of a rejected Messiah strains their categories sensibilities: Peter rebukes Jesus right after he confesses him. They still do not fully know him. They are like the blind man. Their knowledge of his identity and kingdom is still weak and shallow–much like us. But he doesn’t give up on them or expel them from school. He perseveres with them–and us.

    My 2 cents. Thanks for posting.

    Shalom to you in the classroom and the other places where you help shape people for service–with the necessary patience to do so..

  • Gordon

    Hello Tim,

    But yet how does that work? For example, I have a chronic disease that goes into remission and then flares again – crises as you speak about. I have a great consultant and I know of probably 20 people – sincere believers – who pray for me daily, for healing and for strength to endure. My faith has grown – I hope – by the need to reach out to Jesus for help, but yet that power of which you speak seems elusive. Its elusiveness brings up fear, and fear which can at times rock me to the core, because of its seeming absence. I struggle when people proclaim this power at finding parking spaces when they really needed it, but yet they see no irony when a friend who has been calling on that power has seen little of it.

    I am not going to walk away from Jesus, but I sometimes feel that Jesus keeps on sleeping (Deus Abscondtius?). Where do we go with this absence, despite the efforts of many?

    • timgombis

      Thanks for this question, Gordon. How does this work, practically? It seems to me that it works by a community of Jesus-followers living transformed lives, reordering community dynamics and relational patterns that look more like the kingdom of God than kingdoms of this world. And this comes down to choices with what to do with money, how to imagine career trajectories, how to shape community goals, etc.

      So, rather than being a meeting place where people can hear a sermon and then leave with lives still ordered by the world’s priorities, a church can be a place that is the center of a community’s life, that invites the full investment of the community’s members. They can investigate the needs of their local community to see how they can be involved to meet some of those, reaching beyond the borders of their community while also serving one another. In these ways, and so many more, a community inhabits the power of the kingdom, enjoying its renewing and life-giving dynamics.

      Yet, any group of disciples also inhabits this broken and not-yet-renewed creation. So, sicknesses and death will still be part of our experience. I don’t imagine that inhabiting the kingdom means that healings will take place or that chronic conditions will be eliminated. Inhabiting the power of the kingdom, however, will mean that a community should respond to such challenges in renewed ways, creating intense and life-giving community provoked by the presence of this instance of creation’s brokenness.

      Just to say that the kingdom’s presence and mysterious not-yet-fully-here-ness still leaves us with the challenge of seeing God’s presence and grieving over aspects of our experience of its absence. Where do we go with that? Certainly our lamenting its absence must be part of the answer here.

  • openness to new thoughts: prayer or faith that moves mountains « Jesus community

    […] post from a professor, an Anglican, Tim Gombis, whose work and scholarship I respect. Entitled, Jesus Expects Disciples to Inhabit the Kingdom. And I was struck by this quote from C. S. Lewis yesterday from another scholar whose work and […]

  • creative love « Jesus community

    […] I can’t help but think of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 followed later by his feeding of the 4,000. With scant resources, and in the context of those passages one could argue that Jesus actually expected his disciples to do this kingdom work in the authority and power they had from him (see Tim Gombis’ post, “Jesus Expects Disciples to Inhabit the Kingdom”). […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: