November 5, 2013

Discipleship and Inner Turmoil

Hello there everyone!

Unfortunately I did not have time to film a YouTube video this weekend. My roommate used to travel to visit her boyfriend every weekend, but she just got a job and is now staying in the dorm a lot more, which makes it somewhat awkward to film because I feel guilty disturbing her. NaNoWriMo started five days ago, and I'm getting into the swing slowly but surely (so much writing, ahhh!).

There are also a couple of additional things going on in college that I added onto my palate this week, so I am in the process of adjusting, but I am determined to film a video for next week focusing on the first chapter of The Little Prince.

That being said, I recently wrote something for a Theology class that I wanted to share with you. This is an essay responding to the prompt: 
Based on Mark’s Gospel and EITHER Philippians OR 1 John, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Please present and explain the connection(s) between Mark’s gospel and the ethical demands of Philippians OR 1 John. Include an assessment of the practical implications of discipleship for Jesus’ followers today, possibly including a reflection on the tension between Christian life and “modern life.”
It was a challenging write for me, but here are the insights that I had. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to type away at the space below!

Have a wonderful week, and I hope you find this to be valuable or at least interesting.
-Riley XO

Note: the excerpt from Rolheiser is taken from the third chapter his book The Holy Longing. It is a fascinating read if you ever have time to pick up a little something.
             Some people view the Bible as a manuscript for living. Although the Bible actually encompasses a variety of genres, it is undeniably a helpful tool for discovering God's plans for his disciples. The Gospel of Mark gives a narration of Jesus' life, but also highlights parables that exemplify the image of an upright disciple. First John then builds upon Jesus' commandments, providing further insight regarding the proper lifestyle for disciples, embellishing on the parables in a straightforward manner. An interesting implication arises, however, when both Mark and First John express that disciples will be persecuted by the world for following God. With further examination, turmoil ultimately coincides with discipleship in the modern context.
            In order to understand the meaning of discipleship, it is first necessary to understand the Kingdom of God, which is a common theme throughout the New Testament. From early on in his teachings, Jesus is already proclaiming that "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (New American Bible, Mark 1:15). The concept of the Kingdom of God is developed throughout the New Testament, and essentially comes to define the community of Christians who follow Jesus' teachings and love one another, and the Kingdom of God is spread through Jesus' disciples, as explained by the Great Commission (NAB, Mark 16:15). Perhaps one of the most descriptive parables for discipleship in Mark comes from the Parable of the Sower, in which Jesus explicitly states that "those are they that were sown upon the good ground; such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold" (NAB, Mark 4:20).  The soil in this parable is most significant because it predetermines the seeds' success. According to Mark, therefore, disciples of Jesus are nourished with "good soil."
            What is an example of good soil, and what must a disciple do to ensure that s/he is in good soil? Jesus answered this question, saying, "Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (NAB, Mark 10:15). Accepting a set of beliefs as a child would goes against instinct, especially after a human has developed rhetorical and logical skills with adulthood. To adults, children seem naive and too trusting. However, it is exactly this innocence and acceptance that Jesus values. Children tend to look for good in the world. Rather than looking down at others, they look up because they realize that they are not the strongest, the wealthiest, nor really even capable of surviving on their own. They  listen and learn quickly; their perspectives are malleable, constantly adjusting to new information. Good soil is having such openness of a child, and the plant begins to grow when the seed realizes that it is dependent on God.
            When the seed has taken root and has the nutrients to flourish, it then bears fruit. First John develops discipleship further by explaining what "bearing fruit" is, revealing that "everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by [God]" (NAB, 1 John 2:29).  A person living righteously can be interpreted to be someone who abides by the Ten Commandments, someone who loves his/her neighbor as him/herself, or someone who follows Christ's example. The last of these would probably be the most suitable interpretation due to the latter part of the verse above. Doesn't it make sense that the disciple following Christ's example is, in a sense, "begotten by God"? Turning again to Mark, it is possible to understand what the correct image of living righteously should be. Jesus showed compassion to the persecuted, healed the sick, and loved the poor. He also taught the people around him to express agape (love) for one another, and empowered the Twelve Disciples to also heal and perform miracles. Therefore, in order for disciples to be considered as "begotten by God," they must also act with this selfless agape. The fruit that disciples bear is essentially the good that ripples out from sharing agape with the Christian and surrounding communities, which is analogous to spreading the Kingdom of God.
            So this rudimentary definition of a disciple of Jesus shaped by Mark and First John is simple, desirable, and straightforward. However, it is a matter of fact that disciples will be hated by the world (NAB, 1 John 3:15). It turns out that discipleship is not as wonderful as it seems, despite the Kingdom of God being the reward. What is it about following Christ's example, that persecution is the result?
            The obvious answer is that in modern life, Jesus' commandments do not coincide with what the world teaches. So naturally, modern disciples are distinctly separate from others. However, it is also important to clarify that persecution comes from the world, and not necessarily other humans. Because disciples are originally born of the flesh before they are "born again" in God, perhaps persecution does come from within the disciples themselves. In order to better conceptualize this abstract idea, Rolheiser establishes that balancing a strong sense of personal integrity, social justice, a peaceful heart, and community with others --all components of being "begotten by God"-- is challenging (Rolheiser 56).  Rolheiser demonstrates with four examples that imbalance is accompanied by personal distress and/or disapproval from both Christians and non-Christians. Disciples must wrestle with inner turmoil trying to attain balance to lead a godly life, a process that is emotionally taxing. And since the great, harmonious, perfect image of God is beyond human capacities, the process of inner turmoil is, in a sense, permanent.

            Being a disciple in the context of Mark and First John presented challenges especially in the early church since Christians were actually physically persecuted. However, such persecution in contemporary life has taken a different form as modern disciples are bombarded with a fast-paced lifestyle that heightens stress and often blurs lines between what is right and wrong. Conflict between disciples and the world, which is integrated both into society and the disciples themselves, makes it a challenge to follow Christ as a child would; however, true disciples of Jesus persevere in order to bear fruit and spread the Kingdom of God.

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