Jesus is beginning to be pressed from all sides. The religious leaders plot to destroy him. The local crowds follow him, harass him, in their desperation to receive healing. One night he couldn’t even get into his own house to have supper because of the people surrounding him and demanding his attention.
Of course, he chose some friends to be close to him. Of course, he wanted a small group of people around him who understood his mission and could help him accomplish it. These same friends could help him fend off the pressing crowds and keep him from being crushed by them. These same friends could help him find food and lodging and assist with day-to-day life. Later, they are the ones he will turn to when his life is in danger.
So he called those friends by name and invited them to live life closely with him. We see the names of the 12 disciples in verses 16-19. Though Jesus did interact with the crowds, he poured himself more intentionally into a few. A handful of guys who were committed to following him and helping him. Companions. Friends. “And he appointed the twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him…” (3:14).
I have never been harassed by a crowd, but sometimes the world looms large and the needs press in tight and I feel like, how can I make a difference anyway? There are too many people, too many needs, and not enough of me.
That’s why I love discipleship relationships. Gather a few people around you and focus on them. Love them and serve them well, teaching them in the best way you can the truths you have learned from the Lord. When I am overwhelmed by the crowds, I comfort myself by focusing on a few.
But wait. Jesus didn’t call his disciples to be with him just so he could have some buddies for support and companionship. Surely that was part of it, but it was much, much more. I cut off the remainder of the verse earlier. Here’s the whole thing: “And he appointed the twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.”
I like the gathering part of discipleship. Invite people in, focus on a few, fill their teacups again and again as we talk about life and what we’re learning. I like the so that they might be with him part.
Honestly, the sending is the part of discipleship I don’t particularly like. Gather them in and then send them out. Focus on a few so they can go and do likewise. Fill all those teacups so that the people sitting around the table can go and pour themselves out for other people who do not yet know Jesus. I know that this is what it’s all about. Reproduction. Multiplication. Growing the kingdom. Making disciples.
But just for a moment, can I say, isn’t it hard? Isn’t it hard to let people go? To send them on their own missions while you regroup and start over? This is what we do as people committed to discipleship. This is also what we do as parents. My oldest is beginning to look at colleges. The “sending out” is coming soon. I have spent nearly 17 years investing in him and discipling him, but soon it will be time to let go. To send him on to whatever God has next for him.
Maybe that’s a little of what Mary was feeling when she gathered up her family and went down to Capernaum to see what in the world her oldest son was up to (see verses 21, 31-35). I’m sure she wanted to grab Jesus by the collarbone and drag him back home just like any mom would want to do. Even Mary apparently hadn’t grasped the fullness of the big truth: she had raised Jesus in order to send him out. Maybe she sensed that sending him out would result in his death. In her loss.
I’m sure that in the following years she began to grasp that hard truth. And since we don’t have evidence of her continuing to follow Jesus around begging him to come home to mama, she probably did the hard work of letting him go. She knew it was the right thing to do.
Just like I know it’s the right thing to do with my kids and the people I have discipled. It’s hard, yes. But it’s not about my comfort or my aversion to loss. It’s about more and more people being gathered into the kingdom. Enjoy the time around the table together. But remind yourself why you’re sitting there: so that many, many more might join you at that heavenly table. Enjoy being together, but don’t forget to prepare your heart to enjoy the sending.