A true disciple
Jesus had a variety of disciples. The original twelve make me think of the old Benetton ads: each one entirely distinct from the others. Yet something in Jesus drew all of them to Him. Have you ever thought about which one you can relate to the best? Mathematical Matthew, Passionate Peter or perhaps John Junior? Personally, my favourite is John. Although John is known to have been the youngest, he also seems to have been the closest to Jesus. Even the language in the gospel of John is deep, rich and intimate. He writes as a close observer. He dares to identify himself as “the disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23). He seems to feel special. Loved. He has rightly been called the apostle of love.
John’s closeness with Jesus is revealed particularly during the last supper when he leans against his Lord. This proximity afforded him the privilege of hearing confidential information. It was John that Peter prompted to ask Jesus who would betray Him. Likewise, it was John who remained close to Jesus when He was dying. It seems like there was a level of trust between Jesus and John that wasn’t quite equaled by the others. Ultimately, this intimacy actually created the circumstance for Jesus to entrust His mother to John, and John to His mother.
In stark contrast to John, we have Judas, also one of the twelve. Like John, he spent a considerable amount of time in Jesus’ presence. As keeper of the money bag, he had an important task in the group. Yet something vital was lacking. Even before the night of Jesus’ betrayal, we see Judas performing his duties with a heart that seems to have remained untouched.
John reports Judas’ outraged comments at Mary’s extravagance in anointing Jesus. He says that Judas “did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). Whereas John seemed to love being close to Jesus, Judas seemed to love what he could gain from being close to Jesus. By way of comparison, it is interesting to note that while Jesus entrusted his moneybag to Judas, He entrusted His mother to John.
The example of Judas is a warning to us. In the same way as he managed to remain a disciple and yet seek his own good, we also can trade sincere affection for God for selfish ambition. In his book, Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning reveals how empty it is to chase after ministry success as an end in itself – and how quietly such an attitude can steal in. At an early stage of his ministry Manning was met with one of the greatest tests of true devotion to God: success. He recounts the process in the following way:
“Many of us recall an utterly unpredictable moment in which we were deeply affected by an encounter with Jesus Christ…We were swept up in wonder and love…For me the experience lasted nine years. Then shortly after ordination I got shanghaied by success. Applause and acclaim in the ministry muffled the voice of the Beloved. I was in demand. What a giddy feeling to have my person admired and my presence required! As my unconditional availability increased and intimacy with Christ decreased, I rationalized that this was the price to be paid for unstinting service to the Kingdom enterprise.” (p.132)
Yet, as Brennan Manning found out, success can be short-lived and unless our hearts are filled with God Himself, we will find ourselves hollow.
We have often heard preachers ask us whether we are more like Mary or Martha. But perhaps another version of this question could be: “Judas or John?” Perhaps now is a time to allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts. Do we value ministry in the kingdom more than intimacy with the King? If we do, then we have become mercenary workers in “the Kingdom enterprise”, as Manning phrases it. May God forgive us for having sought our own gain instead of His glory.