Sunday, 24 January 2016

Discipleship, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Neh 8:2-6,8-10; Lk 1:1-4,4:14-21
Today I want to try and introduce you to a new word, and that word is, “disciple”.
Now, obviously, this is a word that you have heard many times before. But I'm pretty sure that for most of us it is not a word we would struggle to precisely explain.
For example, the gospels refer to “apostles” –meaning those who are “sent” out.
The gospels also refer to “the 12” and “the 72”(Lk 10:1) meaning different groups within the mass of those who followed the Lord Jesus who were singled out for a particular rank and role.
But there is another term that is used frequently, and that is the term “disciple”.

The term “disciple” and the concept of “discipleship” have become very fashionable in the Church in recent years. In part because it is Biblical, and post-Vatican Two Catholicism seeks to make us more Biblical. In part, however, because the concept of what a disciple is is very relevant for what we need to focus on NOW in our contemporary British culture if we are to grasp how to be a Christian in the midst of our secular relativistic era.
Pope Francis speaks a lot of about “disciples”. He did before he became Pope (c.f. Apacecida 6.2.1), and he does so now as Pope (37 times in Evangelii Gaudium).
Our new Bishop, +Mark, likewise has had it as part of his vision –I think well before Pope Francis was elected.
And, in our parish, this spring I hope many of us will respond to our Bishop’s call for us to study the book, ‘Forming Intentional Disciples’ –as the insert sheet inside the newsletter describes.

So, what IS a “disciple”?
To grasp the notion of a disciple we need to see him in relationship to his MASTER.
A disciple is a type of student, one who is learning.
But, more particularly, he is learning from a specific teacher, and learning not just academics but learning a way of LIFE and way of LIVING.
With this, we have the word, “discipline”, which implies training and formation.
When we look at the Gospels we see that the Lord Jesus had many who are called His “disciples”. They learnt from Him, listened to Him, followed Him, and committed themselves to Him.

But in our modern culture today we tend to be much too INDIVIDUALISTIC to be willing to commit ourselves to a master, to become the disciple of anyONE in particular.
For example, if we think how how many people learn today, people flit among many different websites, people choose bits of wisdom from bits of different books from many different “wise men”. People today generally don't commit themselves to one teacher or one source of wisdom.
The point is this: the Lord Jesus wants just that sort of commitment. He ranks so much higher than any other teacher that we either commit to Him, and follow Him, or, we’re not following Him at all –we’re just following ourselves.
If I listen to Jesus, and follow Him on SOME points, but pay pretty much the same amount of attention to the TV, to a food expert I like, and a diet expert I follow, and a exercise expert, and a fine wine expert -and all these people rank pretty much the same as Jesus -then I'm not following Jesus, I'm just following what I think myself, I'm just following myself.
And this thing about just “following yourself” is very much the spirit of our age. And it's a problem! It fails to recognise God as God, and Jesus as His unique Son, and as our unique teacher and master.

Let us compare this with the image we heard in the first reading, about the priest Ezra.
As we heard, Ezra read “the Book of the Law”(Neh 8:3) to the people.
And the people were gathered to hear it. They're didn’t flip between many different religions. They didn't choose a bit of this and a bit of that.
No. Instead they engaged in what is part of being a “disciple of the Law”, namely, seeking to learn the Law of the Lord.

So, to sum that up. The Church is offering us a renewed focus on this word, “disciple”.
And what discipleship and being a “disciple” means is that I commit to the teacher, the master, the Lord Jesus.
I learn from Him.
From His example,
from His teachings,
from what His Church passes on to me still today.
And if I commit myself to such a pattern of forming my life on Him, then I will have the full benefit of what He offers:
the fullness of life. As our psalm today put it: “Your words are spirit Lord, and they are life”(Ps 18:15).

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