By Cadet Loren Wallace, Evangeline Booth College
When most people think of spiritual formation they think of the disciplines of prayer, fasting, solitude, simplicity, service, etc. For me the best example of a good spiritual formation discipline comes from Jesus and the culture of first century Judaism. In first century Judaism, rabbis would sit around and discuss God’s word. One of my favorite accounts of Christ’s life is described in Luke 2:49-52.
This account gives a glimpse at Jesus’ spiritual formation. After noticing Jesus was not with them on their journey home from the Passover, Mary and Joseph went searching for him and scripture tells us that they “finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions” (Luke 2:46, NLT). I love this picture. I can just see Jesus sitting around engaged in discussion, asking questions and giving answers, and maybe even debating a little. Luke tells us at the end of this passage that “Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people” (Luke 2:52, MSG).
This way of spiritual formation in the first century employs what is called the rabbinical style of teaching. This teaching method used questions from the students to create discussion. Basically, people would got together and discussed how to interpret the Scriptures and how to live out the interpretation in their lives. The Jews of Jesus’ day championed the study of scripture so much that their most gifted teachers walked from town to town teaching the Scriptures. Customarily the teacher (rabbi) sat on low pillows or chairs while they taught. Their disciples (listeners or students) sat on the ground or on mats around them. The expression of this practice was “to sit at his feet.” This expression is used in Acts 22:3 when Paul describes himself as someone had learned from “at the feet of Gamaliel” (KJV).
One of the most famous biblical passages that describes a disciple who sat at the feet of a rabbi is that of Mary at the feet of Jesus in Luke 10:38-42. We are all very familiar with this passage of scripture. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha ran around the house distracted by the necessary work of a host. This setting goes along with another rabbinic saying attributed to the second century rabbi, Yose ben Yoser, which says, “Let your house be a meeting place for the rabbis, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink their words thirstily.”
Martha was not so thrilled that Mary had not helped with any of the preparations. So she asked Jesus to get Mary to help her. Jesus responded, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NLT). Jesus didn’t condemn Martha, rather he commends Mary. He revealed that she chosen what is best, and that was to sit at his feet. By sitting at the feet of Jesus, Mary chose to learn from him. Just like any other rabbi and disciple relationship this wouldn’t be lecture style, but rather it would be a dialogue full of questions and discussion. The goal of the disciple was to learn and become like the rabbi because a good disciple is one who learned from their rabbi what it means to become a living example of what it means to live out God’s Word in their life.
As followers of Christ we are still called to discipleship, becoming like Him through the power of His Spirit at work within us. A good way to learn more about what it means to be like Him is to be in dialogue with His other disciples, discussing and clarifying what it means to be a true follower. We can still sit at the feet of the Rabbi Jesus! In Matthew 18:20 Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (NIV).
These opportunities for dialogue and discussion are available almost all the time. Next time you are at a friend’s house, watching TV or playing a game, or at Starbucks with a group of people start a discussion about what’s going on with your journey with Christ. Maybe you have a question, or maybe you have a testimony to share. Whatever it is, just be intentional to invite the Rabbi to be there and allow the Spirit to guide the discussion.
May your house be a meeting place for the disciples of the Rabbi, and may you cover yourself in the dust of their feet (their teachings) and drink their words thirstily!