What Does It Mean To Be A Disciple Of Jesus?
In this beautiful homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly looks at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Readings for Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: First Kings 19:16-21
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
- Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-18
- Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
When I was very young, which is a long time ago, there was a movie star called Tallulah Bankhead. And I bet only about three people in the whole church remember who Tallulah Bankhead was.
Well, she was a movie star and a rather famous one. And she was what we say a brassy, sassy kind of lady and so that made her very quotable. So all through her life and after she retired, the newspapermen would ask her about this and that.
And one of them asked her one day, “Tallulah, what’s it like to be old?” And she looks at him and says, “Old age is not for sissies.” And it’s true and everybody laughed.
But it could be the beginning of this chapter that we read today: the Kingdom of God and being a disciple of Jesus, it’s not for sissies.
You really have to listen carefully and realise what it means to be a disciple.
And Luke understands this. So what Luke does is, from the moment Jesus turns his face, as the saying goes (that means very resolutely), and walks to Jerusalem, he’s only got one thing in mind for nine chapters and that is: what does it mean to be my disciple?
And the events of that journey end, as we all know, in his arrest, in his suffering, nailing to the cross, dying and, of course, rising again.
So we’re supposed to join with the disciples in the next few weeks and walk with them as they misunderstand, misinterpret.
At times they’re very lovable, and at times they make even our heads shake with their lack of understanding.
And we walk with Jesus and, at the end of the journey, we, too, walk into eternity, because the end of the journey is our death and resurrection.
So this is the most important of all the journey stories and it begins today with Jesus resolutely saying to his disciples with great deliberation and concentration, “You follow me.”
Well, they walk a little bit of the way and they’re in Samaria.
Now the Samaritans are the children of Abraham, but there was a sort of divorce many, many centuries ago, and misunderstanding piled on misunderstanding, so the Jewish people, when they came back from Babylon and resettled in Israel, they didn’t accept the Samaritans as being up to snuff, not quite… you might say a little bit heretical, cut off.
And so the Samaritans had their own temple in Samaria. And they would, if the Jew was going to go on pilgrimage, he was not welcome in a Samaritan area, he had to walk all the way around it, because he was bent on worshipping in Jerusalem and they felt they all should be worshipping in Samaria.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, they hated each other.
We know that Jesus converted large numbers of them at the end of his life. But at this time, Jesus, when the disciples were sent on ahead to prepare to go into a Samaritan village, Jesus sent them there to prepare his way and they came back saying, “They reject you, you cannot come. You cannot walk through their land because you’re on your way to Jerusalem and you must find another way.”
And so James and John, being very eager disciples, said, “Shall we call fire down from heaven and consume them all?” because this was kind of the natural response to reject God Himself.
Luke doesn’t say what Jesus said to them, he just says “rebuked them,” in harsh words he turned on his disciples, and he said, “We’ll go to another town.”
And, of course, what he was telling them was: this is a new way of living that we are starting here, not the old way (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth).
It is a way of love, and it demands hard love, but you must not think that under any circumstances you can wish evil upon any human being.
And then remember, just a few chapters before this, where Jesus says, “If you’re going to follow me, you must love your enemies. You must do good to those who hate you and you must care for them.”
We take this for granted, but we probably don’t practise it too well.
But what he is saying, basically, is this: a disciple must learn how to love. If he does not learn how to love, he might be walking with me but his heart is not with me.
And so the first lesson to his disciples is, when you go out to preach, by word or example, the Kingdom of God, you must remember you must do it with love or leave it alone.
Do not profess my name unless you’re willing to profess the way I teach you now to act.
And so you must forgive.
Why would he say that?
Well, St Augustine sums it up very well. St Augustine, three hundred years later, when he is praying to God he says this beautiful prayer: “If you had treated me as your enemy when I was your enemy, how now could I ever call you my friend?”
And so what seems to be maybe being nice to somebody terrible and encourage them, is basically the only way that you can live is by God’s love. And God’s love forgives.
And the other thing is that if you cannot love, you cannot know who God is, because God cannot hate. God doesn’t harbour grievances. God isn’t going to make things that are unfair fair.
God is weak and He has a weakness for all mankind, all mankind, for they are the wonders of His own divine power and nothing will ever turn that into anything else but love.
Then Jesus goes on a little bit and an eager young man comes up to him and says, “Teacher, wherever you go, I go. Wherever you go, I will go with you.”
And Jesus kind of smiles at him and says, “The foxes have their dens, the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
The second lesson: The second lesson is based on the fact that if you’re going to be a disciple of Jesus, you must be detached from everything but one thing and that is Jesus himself.
He must become the centre. You cannot be attached to anything else that would stop you from following and being one with Jesus and one with God.
Everything is separate and this is what he means when he says…
He doesn’t mean you have no homes to live in. He says you can only make one home your home and that is in the heart of his Father.
And so that is the second reason why we say that we are all pilgrims in this world and that our home is with God Himself.
I’ll tell you a story.
There was a very rich American businessman and he went to India and he climbed the high mountain and he saw the guru.
And it took him a long time. And he looked around and the guru was sitting in his room in his house and the only thing he had in his house was a little table off in the corner and that’s all. And he was sitting there.
And the American said to him, “Hey, where’s your stuff?” you know.
And the guru said, “What do you mean stuff?”
“I mean, you live here. All you’ve got is a table and a little chair, where is your stuff?”
So the guru says to him, “Where’s your stuff?”
And he said, “Well, I’m just passing through”.
And the guru says to him, “I’m just passing through.”
Meaning there’s nothing in life that will hold us here forever. We are just pilgrims passing through.
And because of this a disciple must always be aware if you do this, every home becomes your home and every land becomes your land, because your home is in the heart of God and, as we know, God is everywhere.
The third one is a little cruel, it sounds a little cruel.
A man comes up to Jesus and says, “Jesus, I want to follow you, I really want to follow you, but can I go home first and bury my father?”
And Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
It sounds terribly cruel, but he’s saying something very important.
If you give yourself to become a disciple of Jesus, that means if you give yourself into his hands and he becomes your Lord, then he comes first.
And when he talks about the dead burying the dead… I’ll tell you another story.
This story is to do with Socrates. You know Socrates, the very famous philosopher in ancient Greece.
Socrates was walking with his friend and they were discussing a mutual acquaintance and the mutual acquaintance apparently was a great traveller. He used to go all over the Roman world.
But his friend said to him, “Whenever he comes back, all he does is complain and whine and complain. You would think that if he’d seen France and Spain and the other side all the way to India that he’d come home full of joy and happiness.”
And Socrates said, “Our friend makes one terrible mistake.”
And his friend said to him, “What is that?”
He said, “When he goes on these trips, he takes himself with him.
“And that’s why he is so miserable when he talks about these places.”
This is kind of subtle, but it’s not subtle.
The world is as your heart sees it, not as it is out there.
You can’t describe the world out there but as your heart sees it so is the world.
If you believe you can put faith in life, you will find faith in life. If you believe that you can rest your hopes on something, you will find that is true. And if you believe that life, with all its pains and sorrows and misunderstandings, is worth living, then you’ll live a life that is worth living.
And this is what Jesus is saying.
He’s not saying, “Imitate me.”
He’s saying, “Come with me and I will show you that your life is worth living, that your life can be full of hope, that your life can be full of love.
“But you must see the world with my eyes, and love the world with my heart, and then all things will be clear.”
And so this is the first lesson that he is teaching his disciples on the way.
And he has a long list of things that he will do and he will say.
But as the weeks pass remember this: he’s not talking to his disciples of many years past, he’s talking to us. The Risen Lord is talking to us, for we are the disciples.
And I’d like to read this little definition of what a disciple is, very brief.
“Discipleship: in our present situation where Jesus is with us but he is with us in spirit, we are called to be his hands, we are called to be his feet, we are called to be his eyes, we are called to be his mouth, and we will be judged by the way we treat each other.”