The Gospel of Mark is the oldest gospel. In fact, two of the other three gospels are based in large part on what is written in the Gospel of Mark. The gospel itself reads almost like an action movie. Things move fast and there are few breaks in the action. One such scene is found at the very beginning on chapter one where it says,
16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.
Notice the reactions of the future disciples. They have heard of and likely heard Jesus preach before this. They were no strangers to the message, but they had not yet committed themselves. In that moment, something clicked. Something changed and the four men—three of whom would end up being Jesus’ closest companions—made their decision. They walked away from steady work and family businesses to become disciples.
A disciple, as they understood it in the first century, was someone completely and totally devoted to the teaching of a great teacher or philosopher. An example would be Socrates whose disciples—Plato, Xenophon, Antisthenes, Aristippus, Euclid of Megara, Phaedo of Elis—continued his teachings, even going so far to record what their master did not. Quite often, these disciples would forsake everything they had simply to live with or follow the teach wherever they went. When we look at the lives of Jesus’ disciples, we see this method exemplified. Jesus’ followers went where he went, ate what he ate, lived as he lived. Why?
To learn from the master.
Step one: learn from the master. If we wish to be disciples, living into the Way of Jesus we have to know the way of Jesus. How do we know it? Read the gospels. And then, read the gospels, and then, read the gospels. But don’t just read words and assume they mean what we think they mean here and now in our time and place. Find books, writings, teachers, and others who can help you understand what they understood when they heard or read the gospels as they were written. We need to immerse ourselves in the world of Jesus, its culture, its history, its worldview. Then and only then will we begin to understand the teachings as they understood them.
To help, I’ll list some resources here. You can find these on Amazon if no where else.
- Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels—Bruce J. Molina and Richard Rohrbaugh
- Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John—Bruce J. Molina and Richard Rohrbaugh
- Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes—E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
- Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes—Kenneth E. Bailey
- The Roman Empire—Paul Veyne
- What is the Bible?—Rob Bell
Remember, this is the starting place for our journey. Don’t feel like you have to get it all in at once. Take a few steps in this direction and get your feet under you. May the Holy Spirit be your guiding hand.