Living in Community
While Jesus apprenticed in his humanity as he was discipled by his Father, he did not live in isolation from others. Quite the contrary, he travelled throughout Palestine with his twelve apostles and a group of supportive women (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus mentored them, taught them, and prayed with them (Mark 4:34; Luke 9:1-2, 18). As a human being, he lived in community with other humans.
In this Jesus models communal living for contemporary followers. The Twelve with Jesus are, in essence, a functional small group—they are sometimes task-oriented (e.g., mission), sometimes focused on spiritual formation practices (e.g., prayer), sometimes a learning community (e.g., Jesus teaches). They are a “small church” of sorts, at least a small group much like many larger congregations encourage.
While living in community has wonderful rewards, it can also be frustratingly difficult and discouraging at times. This was something that Jesus also learned and experienced as he lived in community with his disciples. His community was, at times, emotionally taxing and aggravating. Does it sound like any community you know?
Mark 8-10 (with Mark 14:4 added in for good measure) wonderfully illustrates the frustration of living in community. The disciples argue with each other about who is the greatest, they get angry with each other, they misunderstand Jesus’ mission, they fail to act in faith, they protect Jesus from children(!), and they want to sit in seats of honor rather than wait on tables.
At this the disciples began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in?” Mark 8:16
Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” Mark 9:19
Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Mark 9:33-35
One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” Mark 10:13-14
James and John replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left…When the then other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. So Jesus called them together and said…“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:37,38,41,45
Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly. But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? Mark 14:4-6
The disciples scold parents who come to Jesus with their children. They scold a woman who gives all she has to Jesus. The disciples are argumentative, judgmental, arrogant, and thick-headed. They were, at times, faithless.
Anybody want to join that small group? Anyone want to live in community with human beings? Sometimes we might just rather live on a island by ourselves. But Jesus chose community–as frustrating, discouraging and aggravating as that is sometimes.
Perhaps it would probably have been better for Jesus to go it alone. Alone he could have lived out his life before the Father without frustration, without anger, and without aggravation. But then he would not have been truly human because humans were not created to be alone, even alone with God.
Jesus loved his disciples though he was sometimes frustrated with them. He stuck with his disciples though they often did not understand. He prayed for them even when he knew they would deny him and fail him.
Can we learn to live in community like that? Can we put up with each other out of love? Can we stick with each other despite our mutual faults and failings? Can we learn to live in community with others as Jesus did?
Living in community is hard, difficult and arduous work. But it is the kind of work that perfects us, transforms us, and sharpens us. Through it we learn to become communal people in a way that images God’s own communal life who is Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus learned it as a human being and we, as his disciples, follow him into living in community with others just as he did.
Questions for Discussion:
- Is it surprising to see how much “anger” was present in this small group? What were some of the reasons or occasions for this anger? Identify the situations where anger or frustration arose?
- If Jesus leads this community, why is it not free of disturbance and disharmony? Should not a community in which Jesus participates exhibit peace and unity?
- Why was it important for Jesus to experience this as a human being? What did he learn as the Father’s apprentice in humanity that was important for his own mission?
- What do we learn from Jesus’ own experience in a small group? How do our groups have the same problems? What does Jesus teach us about dealing with these problems as we seek to live in community?