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Tony's Reflection 40
Coronation Street holds two UK records. It’s the most watched soap opera, with roughly 8 million viewers every time. It’s also the longest-running, having had its 60th anniversary last month.
Sometimes real life is just as bizarre as a soap opera.
Take the marital life of Henry VIII, for example. Six wives in 34 years, an average of just over five years per wife. Several times Henry went from a wife to one of her ladies in waiting – he clearly liked to keep things in-house! Perhaps the most bizarre marriage was to Anne of Cleves. At that time, Henry wanted a foreign wife. He didn’t have time to tour the continent and meet eligible brides in person, so he sent the painter, Hans Holbein, to paint two sisters he liked the sound of. Anne was the “lucky” sister he liked best from the portraits, so her it was. When she arrived in England, Henry couldn’t stand the sight of her. He said she was ugly, calling her the “Mare of Flanders”. It was too late to cancel the wedding, which still went ahead, but he ditched her a few weeks later.
In the early days at least, Henry’s marital scandals all came because he was desperate for a male heir. Every responsible monarch, in those days, needed to have a strong male successor in place.
Jesus was just as purposeful when it came to planning out who would succeed him. Today’s episode in Mark’s biography (3:13-21) sees Jesus putting in place those who would be the focal point for his work, when he was gone.
So far, Mark has told us how Jesus chose 5 people to follow him. We have seen him staying at the house of one of them, Peter, but there is no other sign of Jesus having particularly close relationships with any of those following him.
We have seen no “inner circle”, just constant crowds. There were huge crowds following him, certainly hundreds, probably thousands, at any one time. We see Jesus repeatedly hemmed in by the crowd, unable to move, struggling to find peace and privacy.
Now, we see a step change in all that.
Jesus retreats from the maddening crowd, up on to a mountain, where he has breathing space. We can imagine hundreds, maybe thousands, thronging at the foot of the hill, all wondering what is going to happen next. Has Jesus climbed up high, to get a vantage point from which to teach them? Is he going to pick out individuals in the crowd and heal them from a safe distance, where he isn’t going to get mobbed?
A silence of eager anticipation falls, as they strain to hear what Jesus has to say and hang on every word. Who is going to be healed next? What is he going to teach us about this time?
A bewildered murmur passes through the crowd as they realise for now, at least, there are no more miracles. No new teaching. No more verbal punch-ups with the Pharisees. What is Jesus doing?
Jesus points into the crowd. He picks out certain individuals. He says he wants them to hang out with him. Not just for now, but permanently. What a privilege… Who wouldn’t want to be in Jesus’ inner circle? The crowd had spent all their time lately trying to hunt him down, trace his footsteps and catch up with him. There was something about his message that was absolutely magnetic. His personality was so winsome, irresistible even. It seems, though, he knows exactly who he wants. This isn’t just a random choice. As Jesus scans the crowd, he is looking for particular people. The tension mounts. Everyone is waiting with bated breath. Who will he choose? Could it be them?
The privileged ones who are called climb up the mountain, one by one. Each one has heart in mouth. Why did he choose me? He says he wants me to be “with him”. Why? Where are we going? What’s going to happen next?
The little band around Jesus gradually swells. Ten - could he want any more than that? Eleven - surely he will stop now? The twelfth man climbs up towards Jesus, beaming from ear to ear, excited at the adventure that is his. And then… Jesus stops. There is no more. Twelve it is.
Everyone knew back then what twelve meant. We all know there are three bears with Goldilocks, seven dwarves with Snow White. Israel back then had been made up of twelve tribes. When you mentioned “twelve” of anything, they all thought of the twelve tribes. The association was instant. Except Israel “had been” made up of twelve tribes. The tribes had been scattered over the centuries and quite literally lost in the mists of time. The twelve tribes were part of God’s promised destiny, but that hope had been lost as the tribes had been dispersed across the ancient world.
Now, here was God’s special representative bringing back together a “terrific twelve”. The hope of the nation was being renewed. What would happen next?
The newly-formed Twelve huddle around Jesus. They are a ragtag, unlikely bunch. Nationalist fanatics stand alongside traitorous tax collectors, whom they hated. Jesus even chose the one who would betray him. Uneducated. Ignorant. Ordinary. They can’t believe their luck. They are going to be the “inner band”, with the inside view on all the miracles and his amazing teaching.
Wait, though. Jesus isn’t planning for them just to watch what he does. He has other ideas. He wants them to preach as well. He even wants them to cast out demons. Jesus is the master teacher and demon-expeller. Why would he want them doing that? Surely he could do it better himself…
They were going to learn to do all of these things. They were going to be part of his work to bring hope to the world. Their adventure was only just beginning.
When Jesus brings you close to him, he’s not after having you as a spectator. You may be as unlikely a choice as any of the Twelve. But he chose you. It was you he wanted. No one else. He wants you to join in his work and bring hope to the world around you. Has that adventure begun for you, too?