ANSWERING THE CALL OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP
During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”
Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.
Once upon a time there was a fire in a small town. The fire brigade rushed to the scene, but the fireman were unable to get through to the burning building. The problem was the crowd of people who had gathered not to watch but to help put out the fire. They all knew the fire chief well – their children had climbed over his fire engines during excursions to the fire station, and the friendliness of the fire chief was legendary. So when a fire broke out the people rushed out to help their beloved fire chief.
Unfortunately the townsfolk were seeking to extinguish this raging inferno with water pistols! They’d all stand there, from time to time squirting their pistol into the fire while making casual conversation.
The fire chief couldn’t contain himself. He started screaming at the townsfolk. “What do you think you’re doing? What on earth do you think you’re going to achieve with those waterpistols?!”
The people realised the urgency of the situation. How they wanted to help the fire chief. So they started squirting more. “Come on” they encouraged each other, “We can all do better, can’t we?” Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.
Exasperated the fire chief yells again. “Get out of here. Your achieving nothing except hindering us from doing what needs to be done. We need fireman who are ready to give everything they’ve got to put out this fire, people willing even to lay their lives on the line. This is not the place for token contributions.”
This story was originally told by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He was urging us to realise that discipleship to Christ means much more than token levels of support to the church and God’s mission in the world. It calls for wholehearted and total life commitment. (Source: Story retold from Kierkegaard)
Today’s readings are about God’s call and man’s commitment in answer to that call. They ask for total commitment in total freedom with the spirit of patient love, saying an unconditional “Yes” to Jesus and to the Christian life as true disciples of Christ.
In the First Reading, we see the total commitment of Elisha who gave up all to follow the prophet.
St. Paul writes in the Second Reading today: ‘When Christ freed us he meant us to remain free. Stand firm then and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery’. Some may feel free now of the Church and its calls saying they were enslaved by its rules. Yet cannot many instead become enslaved by all the modern world offers with its consumerism and materialism? We may have tried to live by the world’s value system and found it wanting. It is never too late to turn to Jesus. He is waiting to welcome us with open arms. But since he created us and loves us he is trying to warn us against seeking our security only in what is temporary and passing.
Let us look at today’s Gospel by understanding who is a Disciple and what is expected of a true Disciple of the Lord.
1. THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS HAS NO EARTHLY SECURITY.
It’s quite a bold statement this one makes, isn’t it?! “I will follow you WHEREVER you go!” Can you say that without any idea of where this Jesus may be headed . . . what may be involved in the journey?! Perhaps you need some more information first, and then if you’re still willing to follow all well and good.
Jesus replies that to follow him “WHEREVER he’s going” will not be an easy road. He’s not one of those “high-flying” Rabbis who jets from village to village, staying in the best hotels, and collecting nice offerings from the crowds that come to hear them. No sir. his is a true “FAITH” ministry!
When Jesus stepped out of his throne in glory to come to the earth and live and die for us, he left behind all that he had. He exchanged wealth for poverty – out of the ivory palaces into a rude cattle shed. He exchanged rulership for servanthood.
He says, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head”. What an irony . . . the King of glory – heir apparent to the throne of the Universe – doesn’t even have a place to call “home”. He has no earthly security. He was loaned accommodation by those who loved him. He borrowed a coin to tell a story. He borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem and fulfill prophecy. Why, he was even buried in a borrowed tomb! (It was just as well that he didn’t need it for too long!) HE had NOTHING. Oh, but here I see his glory shining! He gave up all when he came and stood by me!!!
And those who follow him must be prepared for the same road. NO EARTHLY SECURITY. Now note, I HAVEN’T said “NO SECURITY”. Oh, there is security in following Jesus all right – but it’s NOT any earthly security. It’s not the security of possessions, or money, or homes, or such things. ONLY the security of God’s faithfulness, and a life beyond this one that NOTHING can take away! Though the Christian has nothing to his name in this life, yet he is more secure than the richest, most powerful of men.
But the follower of Jesus has NO EARTHLY SECURITY. If you’re going to follow Jesus – and walk his road – it may well cost you everything! So COUNT THE COST! But remember the words of Jesus elsewhere, He said: “WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE FOR MY SAKE SHALL FIND IT!”
Then we read of a second man. And from Jesus’ conversation with this one we learn that:
2. THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS HAS NO EARTHLY TIES.
Here we have a conversation that has shocked many people; it shocked me when I first read it! Jesus CALLS this man to be his disciple, but he begs leave to go and bury his father first. Doesn’t this seem like a reasonable request?! You feel sympathy for the man, don’t you, as you read it. BUT JESUS REPLIES: “Let the dead bury their own dead: I’ve called you to preach for me.”
Friends, the point Jesus makes here, and let no-one mistake it, is that if you’re going to follow Jesus Christ then the claims of his Kingdom come before ANYTHING and ANYONE else. Jesus said elsewhere that, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me”. NOW you get the picture of the kind of devotion that he is calling for! He’s not calling for us to dishonour parents, or shirk our responsibility to family, BUT IF WE ARE PRESSED INTO A CHOICE BETWEEN THE TWO, HE COMES FIRST! And indeed, some have had to lose family to follow Christ.
The follower of Jesus has no ultimate earthly ties! So, Jesus says: “LEAVE IT BEHIND!”
Let me cast a little further light on this conversation perhaps. When this man says, “Let me first go and bury my father”, it might help us to have an insight into Jewish funeral procedure. An initial burial took place shortly after a person’s decease. This man is not locked away in ‘mourning’, so we may assume that that burial had already taken place. but then ONE YEAR LATER, after the first burial, (and I won’t go into the graphic reasons for it!), the son would return to re-bury the bones in a special box in a slot in the tomb wall. If that’s the situation here, and it seems reasonable to assume it was, then this man who has been called by Jesus could be asking for up to a YEAR’S delay before following! Jesus says, “Others can take care of that, my friend – the demands of the Kingdom are more urgent – MY call cannot wait!
Friends, the follower of Jesus has no earthly ties. Jesus says, “LEAVE IT BEHIND . . . Follow Me!”
I hear young people saying, “I’ll follow Jesus later on. I’ve other more important things to attend to right now. My career, my education, my girlfriend, my boyfriend. I’ve go to provide a nest for my family first; wouldn’t God want me to be responsible like that?!” Friend, if God is calling you to follow him – to commit your life to Christ, or to take up ministry for him, or whatever it may be, HIS CALL COMES FIRST! No excuse must be allowed to hinder you.
The follower of Jesus has no earthly ties. LEAVE IT BEHIND.
Then finally, we come to the third man. And from Jesus’ conversation with this one we learn that:
3. THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS HAS NO EARTHLY DISTRACTIONS.
Again, doesn’t this seem like a reasonable request? Would you deny a soldier going to war one last chance to bid his loved ones farewell?! But again, Jesus clearly spells out the cost of following him. “Sir, you’ve already declared you are ready to follow me – YOU’VE PICKED UP THE PLOW – if you put it down now because of your hankering after your family back home, you’re not fit for the Kingdom of God!” What is Jesus saying? “DON’T LOOK BACK!”
When Peter, James and John followed Jesus, they literally “DROPPED” their fishing nets to go after Him. And right when it looked like business was picking up too! (Jesus had just got them a bumper catch!) They went back for nothing. The Master had called.
Some have looked back when God called them forward. Let me list some of them for you. LOT’S WIFE. JUDAS ISCARIOT. DEMAS. Is any of them remembered for any GOOD thing? They were not worthy of the Kingdom.
If you’re going to follow Jesus, there must be no going back. Another reason why we count the cost FIRST!
Another way Jesus put it was like this: “Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’”.
The true follower of Jesus allows NO EARTHLY DISTRACTIONS. We don’t look back for anything or anyone.
Jesus’ words are strong, aren’t they?! Here is what it will cost you to follow after Jesus. In short, it will cost you EVERYTHING. He calls for us to commit ourselves completely to him, and hold nothing back. And THAT is the picture of the authentic Christian.
The follower of Jesus has NOT EARTHLY SECURITY; NO EARTHLY TIES; and NO EARTHLY DISTRACTIONS.
Jesus said to the first man: “COUNT THE COST”. He said to the second man: “LEAVE IT BEHIND”. And he said to the third man: “DON’T LOOK BACK”.
So, what does it mean to be a disciple? Here are 10 qualities of discipleship that we could all adhere to as followers of Christ.
1. Love Jesus above everyone and everything. The first Commandment calls for this and Christians adhere to this with devotion. While disciples love their family, friends and even foes, they put the Lord above all else and it’s evident in their priorities. Money, career, ambition may be a part of their lives, but these things and other material interests never come before Christ and following his Word.
2. Selflessness and sacrifice. Disciples always put others first and in many ways put other’s needs before their own. This is evident in disciples’ selfless deeds and many acts of kindness.
3. Humility and modesty. To be humble is to be a disciple of the Lord, because the Lord himself was truly humble. Just remember that he came into this world a man, and how he came, in a stable, laying in a manger. He humbled himself to everyone and yet he was God. Christ’s disciples are also modest, not just in appearance but also in the way that they act.
4. Dedicated to following Christ and the Commandments. A disciple is committed to the Lord and eager to follow his Word and act in ways that are pleasing to him. This doesn’t mean that a disciple is perfect or that she always does the right thing.
5. Is not easily influenced by the world. In fact, a disciple is indifferent to the standards of the world and is not affected by trends or fashion.
6. Has self-control in her emotions and actions. This is evident in the way he/she behaves, regardless of how others act toward him/her. If she/he is criticized, ridiculed or persecuted for her/his faith, she/he responds with kindness, just as Jesus did. After all, Christ called us all to do as he did.
7. Lives the Word. A disciple is a light that shines in the world and reflects the Lord in his actions and lifestyle. His faith is reflected in his words and deeds. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
8. Professes the Word regularly and effectively. A disciple speaks the Word of the Lord in regular conversation, not in a preachy way, but naturally because it’s what he believes. And he’s so eager to share the Word because his desire is to introduce the Lord to everyone.
9. Loves as Christ did. Or at least tries to. Jesus is love and he was clear when he called all his followers to love as he loved. Disciples understand that it’s not easy to love as the Lord did, but know also that to love others is to love God.
10. Recognizes that he needs God’s strength to be a true disciple. Because a disciple knows his weaknesses and understands that he cannot live in this world without the strength of the Lord. And that suffering is only bearable when the Lord is with him.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.