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“They,” Not “He”

For some of us, this is the hardest aspect of Christian ministry.

Graham Tomlin’s Spiritual Fitness has a chapter on the spritiual practices Jesus with his disciples. Much like Paul Miller’s book, Love Walked Among Us, this is a helpful, lay-friendly look at Jesus that longs to learn from what he did. Here’s one example (142-3):

A striking feature of Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus very rarely did things alone. Occasionally he went off into the hills to pray, but most of the time he did everything with his discipes. At times it was with the whole group, at other times he took just a few of them along, but he rarely acted alone. The pronoun used most often is ‘they’, not ‘he’.

(Note that much of Paul’s story in Acts is similarly dominated by “they” language, not “he” language.)

As Jesus moved . . . [to] Jerusalem . . . this was a communal journey where everything was done together. They experienced together the elation of the transfiguration when Jesus took Peter, James and John with him on that most extraordinary and personal encounter with his Father (9:2-13). They experienced together the grief and despair of Jairus’s daughter (5:35-43). They encountered fear (4:38) and went through failure (9:18). Jesus took them through the whole range of human experience and they went through it together, not alone.

There was a commitment to each other which transcended even commitments to family. In fact this group actually became as close as a family – Jesus ask the rhetorical question, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers? He looked at those seated in a cricle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!”’ (3.31-5).

Here at the heart of Jesus’ practice of church was a willingness to expose his life to theirs and their life to each other’s, in the intimate setting of a small community of around a dozen people. Without that depth of companionship, it is unlikely that our churches will get very far with real transformation.

This is a necessary and challenging word for someone who is very content reading alone, and I suspect that among readers of this blog, I’m not alone.