Two times in Mark 1:17 Jesus emphasizes that there is a process to the matter of becoming disciples. Nearly every English translation has the phrase, “and I will make you”–clearly a word about process. But some translations do not capture the fact that in the original Greek it is a double statement: “and I will make you to become.”
The Greek captures the significant fact that Jesus is the “maker” and we are the “becomers.” Together, we are part of a divine production process. Nothing happens quickly, and nothing happens once and for all.
One of my greatest surprises in teaching in a seminary for nearly 30 years is the number of people who don’t really think they need to be there. I’ve often wondered what our enrollment would actually be if denominations didn’t require a seminary education for their clergy. Happily, those who seem to feel this way are still in the minority, but even those who recognize the importance of a theological education (whether in seminary or some other way) sometimes exhibit a restlessness because they want to “get on with it.” School seems like a detour or a slowing down that is mostly to be tolerated.
And then, I remember Jesus. He spent thirty years preparing for a three-year ministry. We’ve almost reversed it and convinced ourselves we can be prepared in three years for a thirty-year ministry. But surely our passion for ministry is no greater than the Lord’s. He must have often felt the impulse to “get on with it,” but instead he gave himself to an extended formation process—a process that continued even after he launches his public ministry, as he regularly sought the Father’s guidance.
Furthermore, he did not seem in a hurry to commission the apostles; that only came after the resurrection. Even in the 40-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost, Jesus reopened “the school of discipleship” and taught them concerning the Kingdom of God. From the day he first called the twelve to follow him, to the time of his ascension, he was fulfilling what he said, “I will make you to become….” And there’s plenty of evidence in Acts, in Paul’s writings, and the other books in the New Testament to show that the Holy Spirit continued to “make” the early Christians “become” what God intended for them to be.
Years ago, Thomas Merton wrote words that burned themselves into my own restless heart, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!” (Contemplative Prayer, p. 37)
Later I discovered that St. Francis of Asisi would awaken every morning, face the rising sun, raise his hands and exclaim, “Today, I begin with God.”
This is the process—always “becoming”—always being “made” by the Christ who has invited us to follow him. The absolute wonder of it all is this—the One through whom all things were made, and without Whom nothing is made that is made—comes right up to us and says that he now wants to take the cosmic reality and make it specific; he wants to “make us to become….” How could you ever want to “graduate” from that school?