Discipleship

01-14-2018HomiliesFr. Chad King

The last verse in the Gospel of Matthew is the Great Commission of Jesus to his 12 apostles- “Go, and make disciples of every nation”.  In this, Jesus gave the Church our marching orders, our mission.  The very reason and purpose of the Church, and thus of every parish, is to make disciples.  For this reason, a few years ago, if you were part of the parish at that time, I encouraged you all to read the book Forming Intentional Disciples. This book describes where the Church is at, why so many Catholics have fallen away, and describes the steps or thresholds of someone’s journey to discipleship.  If you don’t have a copy, you can check out a copy in the parish library, or read the copy that is left in the Adoration chapel when you’re there. But before we can help make disciples, we have to first know who a disciple is and become one ourselves.

The word ‘disciple’ is used often in today’s Christian world but you might not really know what it means.  Perhaps most people use the word to be synonymous as ‘a follower’, and that can be a good understanding, but we still need to know what the characteristics of being a disciple or follower of Jesus are.  Our Gospel today from John describes who a disciple is in a Jewish context, at the time of Jesus.  Our Gospel, begins talking about John the Baptist and 2 of his disciples.  Even though we might think about the Baptist as being alone out in the wilderness by himself preaching, however, our Gospel says that John had disciples, he had followers. Today, we think about followers on social media, where someone can follow somebody else, but from a distance and not even having met the person they’re followers of.  However, in the time of Jesus, to be a disciple of someone then you were their student.  A disciple would literally leave their mother and father, leave their normal life, to follow wherever the master went.  He would live with him to learn from him in private, he would study and follow him so as to become like him.

So, John the Baptist had disciples, our Gospel reveals that Andrew was one of them, along with another unnamed disciple.  Obviously, these students knew that John was preaching in order to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.  And like good Jews, they must have been excited, for like good Jews they have been waiting their whole lives with great anticipation.  So when Andrew and the other disciple heard John proclaim- ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’ they understood what John was saying. They knew that John was referring to the Passover Lamb described in Exodus 12 in which every Jewish family would sacrifice and eat a male lamb every year on the Passover and through the sacrifice and them eating of the lamb they were saved- saved from slavery to Pharaoh and from their sins.  Therefore, John is saying that Jesus is the One who will save them, He is the new Passover Lamb.  It is for this reason, the priest says at every Mass- ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ right before we eat Jesus, who is the Lamb that was sacrificed for our salvation.

After hearing John proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would come and save them once and for all, they turned and started following Jesus.  The conversation between Andrew and Jesus in today’s Gospel from John takes on a deeper meaning then just the practicality of looking for a place to stay for the night, for Andrew is actually asking if they can become Jesus’ disciple.  First, they call Jesus ‘Rabbi or Teacher’, and they ask “where are you staying”.  The Greek word they use the word, meno’, is translated “to remain, or abide”.  It is the same word in John 6- when Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, or abides in me, and I in him”. And in the parable of the vines and branches in John 15- Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, so we can only bear fruit if we remain connected to the vine. Or John 17, when Jesus prays that all his disciples will remain in him as He remains in them.   So, it is clear that a disciple remains with, he or she abides in Jesus.  Keep in mind that there were many people who believed in Jesus but didn’t go to the extent of following him and staying with him to learn from his every word and action.  Just as there are many here in this Church that believe in Jesus, but aren’t fully ready yet to remain or abide in Him every day of their lives.  And notice that a disciple abides in Jesus, not the other way around.  A disciple isn’t asking Jesus to come with me, be with me, as I do what I need to do today, and be there in case I need you.  No, disciples abide in Jesus.  Disciples follow Jesus, goes where He goes, does what He commands.  God leads and disciples follow.  Just as Samuel in our 1st reading says, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”.  Disciples are servants of the Lord, who listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit everyday as they abide in Him in prayer, and who are trying to follow and do God’s will throughout the day; who are striving to be like Christ to everyone they encounter that day.  Disciples let God lead, let Jesus be Lord of their lives and not just to bless or help them. Do you see the difference?  I know it is so difficult to truly live our lives as if Jesus is in control, to let Jesus lead and we follow, but that is what a disciple does.

Another characteristic of a disciple, is they go and make disciples.  In our Gospel, Andrew immediately upon encountering the Messiah went to tell his brother, Simon, that he had found the Christ.   Notice that Andrew goes to whom he had a relationship with. A disciple goes to the people he or she knows, just as Andrew knew his brother Simon was also waiting for and searching for the Christ to come and save them, and brings him to Jesus.  A disciple knows what the other is longing for, meets them in their need, and brings them to Jesus.  A disciple knows the hurts, the desires and deepest longings through investing in the relationship, and meets them in their need.  However, a disciple doesn’t just say- what you need is to go back to Church, and hope they go back.  No, a disciple first shares how Christ has and is saving them in their own needs and longings, and when they’re ready, reveal that Christ is the answer they are truly longing for, and then bring them to Jesus.  A disciple walks with another and teaches them how to follow Jesus and to trust their needs and worries of every day to Him.  For what good is it for someone to go back to Church if they don’t know how to encounter Christ at Mass and what it means to follow Him after.  The disciple leads them to Jesus, including in the Mass, and helps them to let Christ in to bring about forgiveness and healing, and continues to walk with and teach them what it means and how to truly follow Christ in their own lives. 

Therefore, a disciple letting God lead to accomplish His will and willing to journey with another until they themselves in turn can truly become a disciple, and go and disciple another.  That is what it means to be a disciple.  Are you, am I, a disciple?  Lord, please teach us how to become and to make disciples.

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