Jesus demonstrated love in his relationship with his disciples and told them, “The world will know you are my disciples if you love one another, as I have loved you.” So, the question we need to ask and answer is “How did Jesus demonstrate his love for his disciples?”
In my reflection on the Gospel accounts with the many examples we have of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, I see the qualities that the apostle Paul used to describe love—1 Corinthians 13:4-8a—clearly demonstrated. One of the qualities/demonstrations of love that stands out in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is where Paul writes, “Love always trusts.” Maybe this one hits me hard because I’m an introvert and often times find it very challenging to trust others. I’m very picky about the people that I trust.
As I strive to follow Jesus more closely and thus learn to love others as Jesus loved his disciples, I see two primary ways Jesus’ trust in them was clearly demonstrated: (1) Jesus did not try to control his disciples but trusted them to make their own decisions, for better or for worse, and; (2) Jesus was transparent about himself with his disciples in various vulnerable (and thus trusting) ways.
- Jesus’ Did Not Control or Coerce = Trust = Love
From the very outset of his relationship with his disciples, Jesus did not command them to follow but he called them to follow him. It was their choice whether or not they heeded that call. It was a choice with real life consequences. It was not an easy choice or a choice to be made lightly or hastily. Many are those whom Jesus called but few are those who chose to follow.
But even, as more experienced followers, Jesus still did not try to control his disciples. He never tried to force them to make good and righteous choices. They had to learn from the consequences they experienced as a result. There were many who chose, at times, to no longer follow Jesus. One even chose to betray him to the Jewish leaders; a choice that led to Jesus’ arrest under false pretences, being tried and condemned, mocked, tortured, and crucified.
Jesus treated his disciples as free-will human beings to whom God gave freedom to choose. In doing so, Jesus showed respect to all. In doing so, he hoped for the best, but often observed and experienced the worst, of their choices. He never tried to manipulate his disciples into making the best choices; he didn’t pressure them with harsh words, threats, or even with false promises. He gave his disciples the opportunities to choose, not just to follow him but to decide how they were going to follow him.
Even after they made a hurtful choice, Jesus continued to trust and show respect their freedom to choose. He didn’t get all angry, authoritarian, or top-down with them when they were imperfect in their commitment to him. He spoke honestly and demonstrated real emotion, but he knew the choice to follow or not follow and/or how to follow must be theirs. He trusted they would repent when needed, but they always had the choice not to do so. Note: All the following chapter and verse references are from the Gospel attributed to Mark.
- 1:14-18. Jesus “said” (epo) and “called” (kaleo), he didn’t “command” (protasso) people to follow him. It was obviously their choice to follow or not follow as we see later when some chose not to heed the call; to follow was not obedience nor was not following disobedience. It was choice. (See also 2:14)
- 1:38. Jesus said, “Let us go…,” was again not a command but an opportunity. The sense you get when you read through the Gospels is that Jesus’ disciples could have left him at anytime, if they chose to.
- 2:9. Jesus said to his disciples to prepare a boat; he didn’t command them to do so.
- 2:13. Jesus “called” (kaleo) his disciples to come to him.
- 4:35. Jesus said “Let us go…” not he commanded them to go.
- 6:1. “…and his disciples followed him.” Their choice.
- 6:7. Jesus called (kaleo) in order to send them out.
- 6:8. Jesus “charged” or “declared” or “announced.” This word (parangello) is not the usual word for commanded.
- 6:30-31. Jesus invited them to “come away…and rest a while”.
- 6:39. Jesus “ordered them” (epistasso). Jesus took charge and organized the situation.
- 8:27–38. These are some of Jesus strongest words, as he lays out what it means to be his follower.
- 10:22. Jesus called the rich man to follow him but first to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. The rich man went away sad. Jesus didn’t follow him, berate him, humiliate him, or gossip about him. The rich man had a choice and he made it.
- 14:27–31. Jesus’ predicts the denial of all his disciples and specifically Peter’s.
2. Jesus was Transparent and Vulnerable = Trust = Love
Jesus was incredibly open, real, and vulnerable in all his interactions with his disciples. He shared how he truly felt or demonstrated how he really felt. He honestly shared his sorrows, frustrations, and his fears and invited them to share in some of his most vulnerable experiences. There was nothing hidden about Jesus. What you saw is what you got. What he said is what he meant.
He even shared his rationale for why he told them some things that were hard to hear about himself. He talked about his own motivations. He invited them to walk with him and to see him in all kinds of interactions with others. Seldom did he meet alone with someone else; he invited others to join him. Yes, he went off, at times, to lonely places, but his disciples knew that, respected that, and knew where to find him. To live like that with people, around people, and engaged with people, requires trust. Some used it against him, but most were drawn to closer to him because of his vulnerability.
Jesus trusted/loved his disciples and so he was open, honest, and vulnerable with them. He had no secrets with those whom he loved, even when it must have been very hard for him to share or hard for the disciples to hear or see.
- 4:13. Jesus expressed some honest frustration or concern about the disciples’ inability to understand his teaching.
- 4:40. Jesus expressed some frustration/concern about why they were afraid and lacked faith.
- 5:36. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him when he raised the synagogue leader’s daughter from the dead.
- 6:4-6. No doubt the disciples saw and heard in Jesus’ voice his amazement and no doubt/concern about how he was treated in his home town.
- 7:18ff. Jesus again expresses openly his frustration/concern.
- 8:11ff. Jesus’ disciples certainly were privy to his frustration in the Pharisees asking him for a sign.
- 8:15ff. More of Jesus’ honest communication with his disciples.
- 8:27ff. Jesus vulnerably asks his disciples, “But who do you say I am?”
- 8:27–38. This is honesty. Jesus lost potential disciples by being honest about what it means to be his follower.
- 9:2ff. Jesus invites Peter, James and John to witness what must have been an incredible sight.
- 9:19ff. Jesus’ frustration with his disciples’ inability to cast out a demon, in some very strong
- 9:13ff. Jesus was indignant with his disciples when they wouldn’t let little children come to him.
- 14–16. Jesus spent time in private with his disciples and opened up what he was about to suffer. He brought them into the garden and asked them to pray for/with him, which they couldn’t do, and at his arrest, they deserted and fled just as he had predicted. And Peter denied Jesus, just as Jesus predicted. But he trusted them to repent and stay true to their decision to follow him even at the cost of their own lives!
Summary: Jesus demonstrated his love by trusting his followers; trust = love!
To me, one of Jesus’ most lovingly trustful moments is detailed in John 6:66–71. This passage in its entirely demonstrates Jesus trusting love that allowed his disciples their freedom and yet demonstrated his vulnerable love as he express concern and sadness. These things couldn’t have been said without emotion—deep, painful, fearful emotion—otherwise Jesus was just an automaton Messiah, not human at all, devoid of any real emotion.
Questions for Reflection
How open am I about my life, what’s going on with me and in me, what I think, what I feel, what I hope, what frightens me? Do I graciously allow my fellow followers of Jesus their freedom of choice or do I make my relationship with conditional upon them doing what I think they should do? Do I subtly (or overtly) try to bully, coerce, manipulate, or bribe other followers to make the decisions I think they should make? And when I’ve been abandoned by some, and I wonder how this might affect my closest relationships, am I willing, like Jesus to ask? Bottom line: as a follower of Jesus, how am I doing in striving to love—i.e., trust—as Jesus did?