BEING DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST
The term Disciple from the Latin Discipulus refers in Christian life to a follower of Jesus Christ, a learner of his teachings willing to walk in his footsteps. We think of the first twelve disciples called by Jesus, such as Peter, or the seventy followers sent forth by Christ.
John the Baptist had his own disciples but he saw himself merely as the signpost or the messenger. In John’s Gospel this passing-over of disciples is recorded (1.36 – 39).
‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ John declares on sighting Jesus one morning near the lake of Galilee. ‘The two disciples…followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi (Teacher), where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.’
Jesus gives these disciples, thought to be Andrew and his brother James, a gentle open invitation, ‘Come and see.’ There is no pressure, no coercion or indoctrination. The discipline of ‘staying’ is also invoked. Later in John Jesus asks his disciples to ‘Abide in me….abide in my love.’ (15:4, 9)
In the ancient world discipleship meant, as Rowan Williams puts it: ‘to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air; there was nothing intermittent about it.’
Those first twelve disciples of Jesus left families and jobs behind to follow Jesus. They walked hundreds of miles alongside him, to listen, to befriend, to learn. For three formative momentous years they followed Jesus almost as far as the Cross.
The Gospel authors portray the disciples in various ways. In Mark they are often dim-witted, slow to learn and to act on Jesus’ instructions, especially Peter. In contrast John’s Gospel presents us with moments of recognition and illumination which starts with the first sign in Cana of Galilee when the disciples ‘see his glory’ (2.11). They begin to understand from the outset.
‘Come and see.’ Jesus’ invitation to the two disciples to see comes to its great climax (John, Chapter 20) when Peter and the Beloved Disciple stumble into the empty tomb and see the folded grave clothes. Peter truly notices and the other disciple comes in and sees. The disciples have moments of clarity and spiritual vision where everything does join up as John’s Gospel proceeds, even if clear-sighted recognition for Jesus’ Disciples has to occur during his Resurrection appearances and with the later Pentecostal experience.
We too are disciples of Jesus Christ in Weymouth in 2017. We have the advantage of being post-Resurrection believers; our understanding should be greater than Christ’s first disciples. We have the Holy Spirit to direct and inform, to energise our awareness and to ignite our expectancy. As with those first disciples we look and we listen. We watch with expectancy, as well as with mourning, the fractured world in which we live. We listen for the Word to help us to see in Scriptures. We look at the symbolic actions of the Church in the Sacraments, asking the Spirit to make the connection to come alive.
As Christian disciples we do not act out our faith in isolation from others. In parish life we mix with a diverse community, some of whom are different in character and outlook from ourselves. It can be very hard work to engage with persons we do not naturally gel with, and vice versa. Sometimes I reflect on those first twelve disciples of Jesus and wonder how they related to one another. Peter was a head-strong, impulsive Galilean; Andrew and James were well-educated and had delusions of grandeur at times. Matthew may have been shunned at first, having been a tax-collector depriving the local people of their precious coins to deliver to Rome.
What held this diverse bunch together? Answer: the unifying person of Jesus Christ, Son Of God. The same is true for us in our Christian community. There will be times of heart-ache, disappointment, the sense that one is not valued or appreciated; when our quiet diligence or well-planned projects fail; times when we do not feel listened to or understood. All of these things I have found to be characteristic in thirty years of parish experience, for me and for many other Christians, whether clergy or laity.
But community life as disciples of Jesus Christ can also bring deep abiding joys. This can be achieved through praying together, worshipping together on Sundays, in being encouraged to undertake the tasks or gifts which nourish us in our calling. We are all made in God’s image and we are called, where necessary, to reconcile with our brother or sister which is a healing experience for both persons. Recognition that the holy spirit is always in our hearts, even in times of grief, despair or sense of isolation can bring quiet joy.
As we enter the Church Season of Lent what heavy luggage are we carrying into the wilderness? What things are impeding us from being the loving, joyful disciples God wants us to be? These forty days can be transformative if we are willing as disciples to answer Jesus’ constant invitation to ‘come and see.’ Which people can help us and sustain us in our faith and which people do we need to encounter for attaining the peace of reconciliation?
I have found in my own Christian journey that I am rather like Peter. I have had moments of insight, recognition and willingness to follow in Christ’s footsteps as a disciple. But also along the path I have sometimes been dim-witted, taken wrong by-ways or lost the capacity to ‘see’, to listen’, to ‘stay’ or abide with Christ. Yet the wonderful thing about Christian life is that God’s love for us is patient and infinite. We will stumble at times. The medieval anchoress Julian of Norwich describes God tenderly in terms of a loving mother with the child, always nearby to help us back onto our feet again.
As a person centred counsellor I always endeavour to show unconditional positive regard to the person with whom I am listening. But God gives us the ultimate gift that always works: unconditional love.
May this Lent season be truly transformative for all of us as 21st century followers of Christ to enable us to enter Holy Week following in his footprints together as his community of disciples with faith, hope, love and abiding joy.
LLM, Wyke Parish