He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.
– Mark 3:13-15
In Mark’s gospel the first thing Jesus appoints his apostles to do is not something to do, but something to be: “And he appointed twelve… to be with him.” So often we think of Jesus as one who does. Especially in Mark’s gospel Jesus seems to be perpetually doing, moving from one ministry opportunity to the next, preaching and healing and casting out demons at a pace that might well leave the reader breathless. Given Jesus’ prodigious activity, we might suppose that Jesus would appoint apostles who could keep up with his action-packed schedule, who could join him in going “immediately” (one of Mark’s favorite words) from one act of ministry to the next. But the first thing Jesus appoints the apostles to do is not something to do, but something to be: “to be with him.”
We live in a culture driven by doing. We work jobs that pay us to do something, and our performance is assessed by how well we do it. We ask our kids, “What did you do at school today?” and our friends and neighbors ask us, “What did you do for your vacation?” We love to hear “Well done!” for something we did, and we love to explain to others how to do something. We tend to be doers, and we live in a world that rewards doing.
There is a lot to be said for doing. I derive great satisfaction from making lists of things to do (and checking them off when done). I like doing things that challenge me, and I find it extremely satisfying to have done something well. I love to work with others on a common task, and I like living in a culture that values “getting it done.” And I think there is a lot to be said for excellence and achievement, “excellence” and “achievement” being words usually applied to things we do.
But when Jesus calls his disciples in Mark’s gospel, the first thing Jesus tasks them with is not something to do, but something to be. As much as Jesus must have valued doing – Jesus needed doers who could accomplish his mission – the first thing Jesus appointed his apostles to do is “to be with him.”
What about us? I wonder if, before Jesus wants us to do, he might be inviting us simply to be. With him. Yes, Jesus’ mission is not going to be accomplished without our doing something. But I wonder if Jesus is first and foremost inviting us simply to be with him. After all, Jesus loves being with us. In John’s gospel the first thing Jesus and the newly-called disciples did was to be with each other: “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day” (John 1:39). Later in John, Jesus calls on his disciples to “abide” in him – to be in him: “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4). Also in John, Jesus tells the disciples that “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus loves to be with us.
I wonder if this Lent and Easter, we might accept Jesus’ invitation to be with him. Just being with Jesus could take on any number of forms: arriving early to Eucharist on Sunday morning and sitting in the silence of the church; taking a few minutes each week to meditate on one of the upcoming Sunday lessons; simply sitting in silence for five minutes at some point each day; at the end of the day, setting aside some time to notice what you are thankful for; gazing at an icon regularly during the week; inviting Jesus to listen with you to a favorite piece of music.
The ability to be can be a healthy component of our spiritual life. To be can free us from the sense of needing to perform. To be can allow us to let Jesus love us just as we are. To be can free us from believing that our self-worth is derived from what we accomplish. And to be with Jesus… if Mark’s gospel is any indication, just being with us is what Jesus wants first and foremost. Maybe, if we tried it, we would discover that what we want first and foremost is to simply be with Jesus, too.
See you Sunday,