Class: 
Cycle C: Thirteenth Sunday of the Liturgical Year

 

FOLLOWERS OF JESUS

 

  • In the footsteps of the Master

 

In the time of Christ, young people who wanted to be initiated to the spiritual life used to leave their homes to go and live with a Master for some time. They studied the Scriptures and learned various prayers and rituals, as Saint Paul himself had done when he was young. Meanwhile they helped their Master in his trade for earning bread. The two young men who, one day, asked Jesus, “Master, where do you live?” (Jn 1: 38), were probably planning to go and live with him to hear his teaching. But it was always Jesus who chose and called his disciples. One day, as he walked along the lake of Galilee, he called a few fishermen to come and follow him. The Gospel says: “They left everything and followed him” (Lk. 5: 11).

 

Contrary to other Masters at that time, Jesus did not have a permanent home. He was often walking from one village to another. Since he had left Nazareth, he did not have any regular income. To follow him and to share his life implied a similar lifestyle. That is why he warned those who intended to follow him: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Lk 14: 33). We would like to know the precise circumstances in which Jesus spoke these words. Was he answering a question from one of his disciples? We don’t know. What is certain is that some took his words literally and followed him. That is what Peter said to Jesus: “We have left our homes and followed you” (Lk 18: 28).

 

The same Gospel mentions a visit of Jesus to Zacchaeus who was a rich man. Offering a joyous welcome to Jesus in his house, that rich man decided to renounce half his possessions and pay back four times as much to those he had defrauded of anything. Then Jesus said: “Today, salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19: 9). Nothing indicates that Zacchaeus would have left his family. This means that the salvation brought by Christ was for all, not only for those who followed him on the roads of Palestine.

 

Jesus had friends in Judea with whom he liked to stay: Mary, Martha and Lazarus from Bethany. The Acts of the Apostles mention also the names of a few disciples who belonged to rich families: for example, Lydia who used to welcome Paul and his companions to her house and allowed the Christian community of Thyatira to meet there (Ref. Acts 16: 14-15. 40). We read also about Aquila and his wife Priscilla who welcomed Paul to their house and offered him work, so that he might earn his living (Ref. Acts 18: 1-4).

 

The New Testament gives us quite a diversified picture of what it means to be a follower of Christ. One did not have to live exactly the same way as Jesus did. Those who decided to be his disciples had to change their hearts and mentalities, but did not have necessarily to leave their homes. The call to leave their families and possessions was a personal call addressed to a few of them who spent three years in his company and were the first ones to hear the Good News.

 

II  -   The cost of discipleship

 

A few years after Jesus’ Ascension to heaven, a number of new Christian communities were founded in the main cities of Syria, Greece and Italy. Soon these Christians began to realize that, to be disciples of Jesus, it was not enough to believe in him: one had also to “follow” him. And the words of Jesus reported in the Gospel passage of today are the very words which inspired some of the first Christians to leave everything and follow him.

 

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

 

We may be surprised to see the attitude of Jesus towards that man who was ready to follow him. Instead of rejoicing over his generous willingness, instead of telling him: “Yes, follow me, for you have chosen the better part,” Jesus gave him a mysterious answer. What did he mean?

 

Following Jesus did not mean merely to walk behind him on the roads of Palestine or to repeat the same external gestures. Following Jesus meant to be with him interiorly. That is why this man did not need to go wherever Jesus had to go. He could be a disciple and remain in his own village.

 

The first Christians understood this very well. “For me, to live is Christ,” said Paul. Today, Jesus tells us: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross.”  (Mt 16: 24).

 

“Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

 

This man would have enough of a few hours to go and bury his father. At that time, in Palestine, the dead were buried on the very day they died and funerals were considered a very important duty: no one ever thought of escaping this responsibility. So, why did Jesus asked this man to bypass a duty which was so fundamental?

 

Jesus wanted to make this man realize that the kingdom of God passes before everything else, even before the most important human responsibilities. The first Christians understood this very well when they were rejected by their own relatives after receiving baptism. Today, Jesus tells us: “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.”  (Lk 14: 26)

 

“Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

 

These words sound disconcerting! Are we not expected to show love and affection to our parents? Even the Commandments of God remind us of this responsibility.

But what Jesus wanted to underline here was the supreme importance of the kingdom which should pass before everything else. Jesus expects his disciples to follow him without looking back.

            

 

III   -   Free disciples

 

You may sometimes ask yourselves, for example, “Why is it that the Church asks us to go to Mass on Sundays?”…  If you don’t find a satisfactory answer, you will probably be inclined to say that she forces us to follow certain observances and that we are not really free to choose.

 

On the other hand, when we read the Gospel attentively, we are struck to see how Jesus respected the freedom of everyone he met. He never forced anybody to follow him. He simply proposed his Gospel and never imposed it on anyone. He always said: “If you want to be my disciple… If anyone wants to follow me… If anyone has ears to hear…”

 

Once, in a village, the people had refused to offer their hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. So, the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn the people up. But Jesus rebuked them, because he had not come to destroy people, but to save them. Listen now to the following testimony from a prisoner in a concentration camp of Romania during the last World War.

“I remember Piotr (Peter). No one knows in what Russian prison he died. He was so young! Perhaps twenty. He had come to Romania with the Russian army. He was converted during an underground meeting and asked me to baptize him. After baptism, I asked him to tell us what verse of the Bible had impressed him most and had influenced him to come to Christ. He said that he had listened attentively when, at one of our secret meetings, I had read Luke 24, the story of Jesus meeting the two disciples of Emmaus. When he drew near the village, ‘he made as though he would have gone further.’

 

Piotr said: ‘I wondered why Jesus did this. He surely wanted to stay with his disciples. Why then did he say that he wished to go further? My explanation was that Jesus is polite. He wished to be very sure that he was desired. When he saw that he was welcomed, he gladly entered the house with them. Jesus respects our freedom. He gently knocks at the door. Jesus has won me by his politeness.’”   (R. Wumbrand)

 

On the other hand, we know how Jesus was eager to see that all his listeners might be in a position to understand the radical character of his message. It is the only way that leads to salvation. It cannot be compared to any other one like Hinduism or Islam. Yet it is a way which is very difficult to follow. Anyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus must be ready to consider the kingdom of God more important than anything else. You understand how far we are from simple tolerance. For Jesus, all religions are not the same. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But he does not impose himself.

 

If Jesus proceeds like this, it is because he has no need of slaves. He wants free disciples. Is it not a sign of great love for us? Think of a man/woman who would force his/her children to come and visit him/her in the hospital… Acts of love should be carried out in perfect freedom. That is the way we should look at the “obligation” we have to go to Mass on Sundays or to any other demand of discipleship. Jesus and his Church do not force us to fulfill these “obligations”. They are simple requirements of love for a true follower of Jesus.

        

 

Author: 
Hervé Morissette, csc