Jesus (noun): Messiah. Christ. Emmanuel. Son of Man. Son of God. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. God in the Flesh. Judge. Boss. Advocate. Savior.
He is all of these things for us (and more), but he wears another hat as well, and it’s one that I often have to remind myself about.
Using that word is a little strange for me, because I’m not Jewish. And neither is Jesus – not anymore, at least. I tried to find a non-Jewish term to describe the relationship I’m referring to, but nothing fit.
Mentor? Not quite.
Model? Sort of.
Teacher? Yes, but more than that.
Master? Pretty close, but it implies a lack of freedom that simply doesn’t apply.
Nope. Rabbi is the only word that works.
And maybe not like 21st-Century-style rabbis, who could loosely be described as Jewish pastors, but a rabbi in the First-Century context.
Rabbis in that era had disciples – apprentices who put aside their own plans and goals to follow in the footsteps (figuratively and literally) of their rabbi. Once they became disciples, they dedicated their entire lives to serving and learning from their rabbi – in the hopes that they would one day be worthy of the rabbi’s legacy.
Or, at least, that’s the understanding of the word ‘rabbi’ put forward by Michigan megapastor Rob Bell in his 2006 video Dust, the eighth episode in the Nooma series. Whether that description fits ancient rabbis in general or not, it’s an accurate depiction of the relationship between Jesus and the Twelve as described in the Gospels, and I think it’s a perspective on Jesus that modern Christians would do well to meditate on. So for the purposes of this discussion, let’s go with it.
Jesus and the Twelve spent the better part of three years in each other’s company, basically 24-7. They went where He went; they ate when (and what) He ate; they slept when He slept. No guarantee there would be work; no guarantee there would be food, or even a safe, comfortable place to sleep. Their schedule and their safety were at His whim, their entire existence was all devoted to learning from their rabbi and striving to be like their Master.
They were Jesus Wannabes, in the best possible sense of the word.
It’s been years since I watched Dust, but a question that Bell asks in the video popped into my heart the other day: Have you ever thought about Jesus as your rabbi?
When we think of rabbis in 21st-century terms, ‘rabbi’ seems like a pretty trivial way to look at Jesus. He’s not our pastor, he’s our God! But Bell wasn’t suggesting that Jesus should be like the guy at the front of our church that we listen to for 25 minutes on Sunday mornings, he meant someone a whole lot closer.
And since this query came to me in the shower the other day, I haven’t been able to shake it.
I wonder why. Why now?
But when I perused the DVD’s discussion questions online, it became a little clearer. There’s a follow-up query:
Would you consider yourself a disciple?
I guess I’d better say yes – either that or change the name of this blog.
But am I living out disciplehood in the context of the rabbi-disciple relationship I described above? Or have I failed to move beyond the 21st-century definition of the D-word? Today, ‘disciple’ seems to be more synonymous with the fickle ‘crowd’ that followed Jesus around sometimes, than ‘the Twelve.’
I toss the word ‘disciple’ around quite a bit, but am I really making Jesus a priority in my life the way James, John, Peter and Andrew did? Remember, Jesus said ‘follow me,’ and they dropped their nets and obeyed without hesitation.
And in doing so, these men embraced a life that was confusing yet illuminating; terrifying yet exhilarating; unpredictable yet comforting; a life of simultaneous surrender and empowerment; of absolute service and absolute freedom.
We’re all called to that kind of radical, leave-your-old-life-behind disciplehood, and it’s the only kind of life we’re made for, but still I resist. I think maybe Jesus put Rob Bell’s question on my heart this week because I’m ready to go a little deeper, and move closer to Gospel-like disciplehood.
OK. If you say so, Lord. Thy will be done.
But what does that look like?
In a way, the Twelve had it easier than us in this regard – Jesus was a physical person for them. They didn’t have to discern His will; they simply had to use their ears, and then obey. We have to use our brains to try to apply a bunch of First-Century parables about sheep and vineyards and bridegrooms to a 21st-Century context, and then obey.
But we have the advantage of knowing the whole story, and having the opportunity to participate in it, whereas most of the time, Peter and Co. had no idea what was going on. Jesus’ parables probably didn’t make much more sense to them when they first heard them than they do to us today, and they didn’t have an army of scholars at their disposal, eager to analyze and explain every detail.
Therefore, I’m not sure they had it easier than we do – but either way, trying to figure out who had it tougher is a little like trying to describe the water you’re in, rather than choosing to swim.
The point is, it’s a struggle. As far as I know, there’s no Disciplehood Switch in my psyche that I can flip on and instantly start living out this call.
But as I pondered this puzzle this week, God reminded me of another one of His Revealed audio-visual aids – something to help me meditate on what I’m striving for.
This is Rembrandt Van Rijn’s 1633 painting The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. If you do a headcount, you’ll notice that in addition to Jesus and the Twelve, there’s another man in the picture – a dude in a teal coat and brown floppy hat, looking directly at the ‘camera.’ Some speculate that this is a self-portrait; that Rembrandt put himself in the story.
In the painting, Rembrandt is effectively the thirteenth member of the Twelve.
And what Rembrandt did in his art, maybe I can do in my heart.
For my money, that’s better than fantasizing about being the Fourth Musketeer or even pining to be the Fifth Beatle, because in a sense, it’s possible. And maybe putting ourselves in the story of the Gospel can help us to catch a glimpse of it means to make Jesus our rabbi in our lives today.
Shalom be with you.