“He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James” (Mk 5:37).
One definition of “disciple” is “follower”. We are Jesus’ disciples because we follow his teaching. We are also his disciples because we walk with him, following in his footsteps. Where Jesus goes we go. Like Ruth with her mother-in-law Naomi, when Naomi returned to the land of Israel, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth followed her mother-in-law to a foreign land, and to a strange people, because she was faithful. Disciples are supposed to be faithful followers.
If disciples are followers, then Jesus has to go ahead of us. He is a pioneer, a “trail blazer”. We can only follow his path because he has been there first. He is the Teacher, we are the students. If the Church is the Body of Christ, Jesus is the Head, as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Colossians (Col. 1:18). If we follow the path it’s only because of the grace of God, showing us the way and giving us the strength and ability to follow.
In our Gospel reading today we see the “inner circle” of the disciples, the followers of Jesus: the brothers James and John, and Peter the leader of the apostles. Peter was the first to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It was to Peter that Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18).
These three disciples were part of the twelve apostles. In the Gospel of Mark, this is the first of three times Jesus takes just Peter, James and John with him on a mission. The second time is when he goes to the mountain, where Jesus is “transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Mk 9:2-3). There a cloud overshadows the three of them, and they hear a voice coming from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk 9:7). They follow in his footsteps and they discover who he is.
The last time Peter, James, and John went with him on a mission is when Jesus takes them to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before his arrest and trial. He tells them to remain in the Garden and to stay awake. Of course they fall asleep, three times in fact. Jesus tells them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mk 14:41-42). As followers of Jesus, the most important part of being disciples is the journey with Jesus to death and resurrection.
But this first time Peter, James, and John went with him in a healing and life-giving mission. Jesus has come into the world as the Savior. Jesus heals the woman who touches his cloak, and then raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus is not only a teacher but he is the Son of God, able to work miracles. He’s also showing them the mission that they will share, healing and reconciling people and showing them the way of salvation.
There are so many ways in which we need a Savior. We need help all the time in every area of our lives. We need healing and forgiveness. We cannot heal and forgive ourselves. Only God can do that. Today Jesus is showing the disciples how to share the Good News of his salvation with the whole world.
It’s a privilege to be allowed by Jesus to participate in his mission. Remember what it says, “He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James” (Mk 5:37). Jesus “allows” Peter and James and John to go with him on his mission. We are followers of Jesus Christ who have followed him to Nashville. He has invited us to be with him on this journey, and he has given us the grace to be with him. Grace is the power and presence of God in our lives. It’s given as a free gift to his followers. That’s what grace means: “gift”, and it makes everything possible for us. May Jesus be praised who has allowed us to be his followers!
- The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee