In 1st century Israel there was a lengthy and very specific process kids would go through to determine their eligibility to study Scripture and be a disciple. It started with Torah school, known as Bet Sefer where boys between 6 and 10 years old started their education. On the first day of class, a rabbi would take honey and put it on the student’s fingers where they were encouraged to lick it off as their teacher reminded them to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ and that the words of God are sweet like honey and the most pleasurable thing they could comprehend (Psalm 119:103).
Then, for the next few years, the students, under the guidance of a Rabbi, learned to read, write, and memorize the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Remarkably, by age 10, they would have memorized 187 chapters and over 5800 scripture verses. At the end of Bet Shefer, if the kids weren’t among the “best of the best” students, they would be sent home to learn the family trade.
However, the most promising students, usually ages 10 to 14, had an opportunity to advance to Bet Midrash, where they would memorize the rest of the Old Testament. Now, the Rabbis in Bet Midrash used a unique teaching method where they helped students learn to think well by asking them questions and having them students respond with questions, similar to the Socratic method.
This is why we see Jesus at age 12 in the Temple in Mark 2:46,
“they found Him in the temple, sitting amid the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”
After Bet Midrash, the cream of the crop students would enter what is known as Bet Rabbi. This is where a student would choose which Rabbi they wanted to dedicate their life to following.
The rabbis during this period were extremely limited in who they would teach the scriptures to. Ancient texts say that there was Rabbinic disdain for the masses, and they believed that “Like the thighs of a woman, Torah is to be kept covered in public.” They felt that teaching scripture to the crowds was like casting pearls before swine.
That’s why a student would approach a Rabbi who impressed them and ask the Rabbi to become their disciple during Bet Rabbi. Through rigorous questioning, the Rabbi would identify which students he felt were capable of carrying on his teachings, also known as his “yoke.” If chosen, the Rabbi would declare, “Come, follow me,” prompting the disciple to leave family, village, and local synagogue to follow the Rabbi, aspiring to become just like him. The Rabbi’s yoke was typically rigorous, exhausting, and burdensome.
But then Jesus came, and this whole system was upended. Jesus, the Rabbi, isn’t exclusive, and He doesn’t wait around for disciples to go to Him. He goes out and chooses them. Remember His words:
Whoever wants to be My disciples… (Mt. 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 14:33)
You did not choose Me; I chose you… (Jn 15:16)
Our question today is, when was the last time you felt chosen?
For most of us, it’s a lot easier to think of the times we haven’t been chosen than the times we have. The times we weren’t invited, or not selected for the team or the job, or hurt by someone we hoped would pursue us. No matter how old we are, sometimes we still feel like an awkward kid, who shouldn’t have cut her own bangs, and is desperately wishing to be the one chosen first in gym class.
Being chosen is powerful.
Today, if you feel invisible or flawed, unqualified, or like you don’t measure up, may you sit with the words of Jesus, who says, “I chose you” (John 15:16b)