“Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.” Mark 2:13-14
I would like to continue my previous post of July 15th concerning Christian discipleship. These are some thoughts I put together for a short presentation given to the RCIA group in my parish a good number of years ago. I used some text from Blessed Mother Teresa's book "Total Surrender."
The reflection is strongly influenced by Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship." Fear not, you will find this book in many Catholic seminary libraries.
Bonhoeffer was a Christian who died a martyr's death. His story is fascinating. And his words ring out true today as well as yesterday -
From Bonhoeffer's ETHICS;
“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”
Speaking of the above Scripture passage from Mark - Jesus calls, and Levi (Matthew) is immediately obedient. He gets up, and follows. Levi doesn’t say “who are you’? “Why do you want me to follow you?” Where shall we go? Has Jesus ever spoken with this tax collector before? Probably not. Now, If I or you approached a stranger and told them to “Come follow me”, what would his/her reaction be? But here something is very different. The immediate call and immediate response are of crucial importance. Why? Because the cause behind the immediate following is Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is Jesus who calls. And because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.
This encounter of Levi and Jesus is a testimony to the absolute, direct and unaccountable authority of Jesus. Jesus has the authority to call AND to demand obedience. Levi does not leave to follow Jesus for something better, no goals, and no ideals – but only the sake of the call. We do not follow in the footsteps of Jesus because it seems to be something worthwhile to do – we follow only in obedience to the call of Christ.
Although the Paraclete had not been sent the disciples, He must certainly have been working in Matthew's life. We know that The Holy Spirit enables us to recognize Divine authority, for without the Holy Spirit we could never recognize Jesus as the Son of God. And the Spirit drives us to that most wonderful virtue of "obedience."
Read the following passages from Scripture slowly, reflect -
John 8:29 “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
John 14:31 “but the world must know that I love the Father and I do just as the Father has commanded me.”
John 14:23 “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
“As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of man has no where to rest his head.” Luke 9:57-62
From the "Cost of Discipleship."
1. The first disciple, without waiting to be called, immediately lets Jesus know he will follow him anywhere. Jesus’ answer is letting him know he does not know what he is doing. The manner of Jesus’ speaking is the words of one on the way to the cross No one can choose such a life for himself. There is a gulf between “a voluntary offer to follow and genuine discipleship’.
And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
2. The second would-be disciple wants to bury the dead before he leaves to follow Jesus. He is bounded by the law. A barrier between him and Jesus.
Nothing must come between man and the call of Jesus, not even the law. This law will have to be broken for the sake of Jesus.
And another said, “I will follow you Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
3. The third disciple, like the first, makes the offer to follow on his own initiative. The difference between himself and the first is that he puts up a barrier between himself and Jesus. He will follow, but only on his own terms (saying farewell to his family first). For him, discipleship can only take place under a certain condition. Discipleship can tolerate no conditions. This reduces discipleship to human understanding.
Now, let's read the words of Blessed Mother Teresa concerning "obedience" :
"Difficult, yes. It’s meant to be difficult. Jesus says: “If you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me.” He doesn’t force us. He says, “If you want.” We are not the only ones that have to obey. Red light, green light, that’s also obedience. I’ve never received so many graces as through obedience. You will receive many more graces if you surrender totally. Love for obedience is love for the will of God".
There is that "total surrender" Mother always speaks about. The Missionary of Charity sisters totally surrender their lives to God - even as far as only visiting their families once every ten years! Now, that is a radical obedience. We are not all called to that obedience - and I am thankful for that - but we are called to surrender ourselves to God's will. And we have the responsibility to discern that call.
“As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and the brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in the boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.” Mark 1:16-20
We see here a conversion - a “Metanoia.” A disciple is dragged out of his relative security, the old life is left behind. The disciple makes a clean break with his past. This is true conversion - a change of mind and life. Christian discipleship is bondage to Jesus Christ alone. Unconditional trust, lovingly and totally. No other significance is possible; Jesus is the only significance. He alone matters.
one more passage...
“Then, he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” Luke 9:23-25
What is this idea of losing one’s life? Christ, who was rich emptied himself. We also must empty ourselves - of our pride, our misguided passions, and addictions of money, media and drugs. All these distractions get between God and us.
Blessed Mother Teresa says;
“Unless you become a child you cannot come to me,” You are too big, too heavy; you cannot be lifted up. We need humility! Unless we become humble – we cannot obey."
Jesus was meek and humble of heart. Learn from the heart of Jesus to be meek and humble of heart, through humiliation, contradictions and accusations.
John Paul II says that Discipleship is not an agreeable journey on a smooth road. It also entails moments of great discomfort.
To follow Jesus is to take part in His passion, death AND RESURRECTION. O How Wonderful is our Faith!!
To be continued.....
* Icon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Lewis Williams, SFO.