As the recent Easter Sunday 60 Minute segment on Mt. Athos pointed out, we Christians have an ancient tradition of monasticism. But it's not ancient enough to be traced back to Scripture. Jesus' earliest followers presumed they'd imitate his dying and rising within the context of a community of everyday people. None of our biblical authors seems to have imagined the possibility of living one's faith in a cloistered convent or monastery. This is the world God gave Jesus; this is also the world God gave Jesus' disciples. If it was good and painful enough for Jesus, it was also good and painful enough for them.
Luke, for instance, presumes when the Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost that this divine force will animate not just individuals, but a whole community of people. That's why he methodically clicks off the names of those who will be in the upper room on that fateful morning. Besides the Eleven, he mentions there also were "some women (a species forever banned from Mt. Athos!), and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." Though we, at times, would like to artificially manipulate the communities in which we live our faith, Luke's first Christian community was of the "natural" variety. Everyone who joined Jesus on his Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem was included.
This also seems to be the case with John's Last Supper community. We often visualize Jesus sitting at a table with 12 men. But no gospel conveys this image. John starts the meal in chapter 13 mentioning that Jesus "poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet." Scripture students know that "disciple" refers to all followers of Jesus, both male and female. (Considering John has Mary present at Golgotha the next day, we presume Jesus washed his own mother's feet that night!)
So when Jesus talks about "those who you gave me out of this world," we should think not just of the Twelve, but of a bunch of men and women reclining around the table. Besides Mary, John includes "his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala." Do you think these three women ate their meal in a separate room from their husbands and male friends on the night before Jesus' crucifixion? Once again, we're dealing with an "ordinary" group of people, not one artificially created for "religious" purposes.
Even more important, listen carefully to what John's Jesus intends for these special individuals. He passes on to them the same ministry the Father gave him. And where are they to carry out this ministry? "Now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."
The "world," for John, is that place (or group) which most opposes Jesus and his ministry. He doesn't send his friends to convents or monasteries, but into the same world in which he himself lived, ministered and died.
Perhaps that's why the author of I Peter brings up suffering. "Let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, or an evildoer, or as an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name."
A significant part of Christian suffering springs from the communities in which we live. We have little choice in their makeup. Many times, as a child, I wished (sometimes out loud) that I could run away from my family and join our neighbor's family. It was evident those adults understood and appreciated their children much more than my father and mother understood and appreciated me. Fortunately neither I nor my parents could engineer such a switch. We simply had to play the hand dealt us.
Long before monasteries came into existence, the Jesus we find in the gospels presumed each of his followers would have to do the same. They weren't to run away from the world; they were to change the world.