The Deep Demands of Discipleship by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
When the days for Jesus' being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."
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." And another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at him." 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."
After rebuking James and John for their vengeful designs to obliterate a Samaritan village for its unwillingness to welcome Him, our blessed Lord encounters three men who seek to become His disciples. Their interactions with Christ give us insights into the nature and mission of authentic discipleship. Jesus' words are antithetical to the spirit of sensuality and comfort in which contemporary society is steeped. He reminds us that authentic discipleship is neither easy nor comfortable. It is not for the faint of heart or for the person who wants to love Jesus and the spirit of the world simultaneously. Discipleship is demanding and decisive. It requires a radical commitment.
The first potential disciple desires to follow Jesus wherever He goes. Jesus' reply that, "the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head," suggests that discipleship demands tireless work, self-sacrifice, and the proper disposition of belonging to no earthly home and yet possessing all that is necessary to accomplish one's apostolate. The true disciple is always on the move for Jesus - willing to forego material and natural pleasures for the pearl of great price that awaits those who love God above all persons and things.
The second person desiring discipleship, upon receiving Christ's call to follow Him, makes the excuse that he must first go and bury his father. Jewish law required one to bury the dead. If a deceased relative was left unburied, the entire family would be rendered ceremonially unclean. Jesus' reply, "let the dead bury their dead," suggests that the "dead" - those who will not share in the glory of heaven - ought to bury the physically dead. In other words, a disciple of Christ must be willing to transcend earthly realities and leave all behind in order to serve God wholeheartedly. This vivid description is intended to stress a point, not to establish a new law of abandoning the dead and family duties. Here, Jesus shows us that nothing should be more important than following Him, no matter the cost.
The third potential disciple wants to follow Jesus but desires to say farewell to family and home first. Jesus replies starkly, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." Here, Jesus warns us that any potential disciple must not rely on the safe and familiar in order to accomplish His work. A true disciple must be willing to put all of his trust in the Lord and depend solely on His grace and His mercy. Moreover, authentic conversion, which accompanies discipleship, requires that the penitent not look back on his past sins with a desire to return to his former way of life.
It is evident that discipleship requires a total commitment from the human person. He must be willing to sacrifice all of his possessions and his very life for the sake of the kingdom. While this may not require us to make the ultimate sacrifice of shedding our blood in martyrdom, it does require us to die to ourselves daily, becoming less attached to our opinions, possessions and our very earthly existence. Jesus makes the aforementioned remarks having set His face upon Jerusalem, determined to accomplish His divine mission. He asks us to follow Him unreservedly knowing that glory can only be ours through the experience of the Cross.
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