It’s a dark time. Clouds are gathering and optimism in short supply. As Jesus goes to Galilee, (Matthew 4:12-23) John the Baptist has been silenced, thrown into prison. But there is prophecy of hope from as far back as Isaiah, and Jesus’ proclamation seems to be announcing something good.
Meanwhile, he is not going to work on his own. First he calls Simon and Andrew, and then quickly also James and John. It is not immediately clear how well they know Jesus, nor what they are letting themselves in for. It seems to be enough that for the moment they will leave normal routine to follow and learn, taking instruction. There is no contract. This “discipleship” will take time to work out, but it is worth starting.
We know a little more of how things developed. These four, with others, stayed as Jesus taught and healed. Perhaps at first they sat and listened, but no doubt they began to help. Was it organising those who wanted a private word first? or the practicalities of shopping for food or finding a bed for the night? How long before they started to re-tell some of the favourite stories, to help people understand what Jesus was talking about?
We know that later, they were sent out in pairs. (Matthew 10:1-15) Told, not just to preach, but to heal and exorcise people as well! However they felt at first, they came back celebrating – and went on to learn some more. There were all sorts of disciples, not just 12 men. Luke tells us of 72 (Luke 10:1-20), and also speaks of how the women contributed to Jesus ministry too (Luke 8:1-3). After the resurrection, the Acts of the Apostles explains how it was disciples who spread the message of Jesus.
They didn’t always get it right. The whole of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians show an enthusiastic, but sometimes mistaken, church. Early on (todays reading is from 1 Corinthians 1:10-18) we hear of dangerous divisions into groups and cliques. Paul is clear that unity is important, and that Jesus is the leader, his death on the cross the vital answer to the need of messed up humans.
Disciples don’t become perfect – at least, not until they get to heaven. But they do understand their need to learn. Following Jesus goes on. We learn more than stories to tell. We become who we are meant to be, and being together is part of the process. Some things have to go – competition, useless argument. Some things come to show their value – Jesus, his choice of dying to serve, a future which brings light in the gloom. Discipleship is still something to value, and keep doing.