Who do you think of when you think of “disciple”? I think of a lot of holy and wise men and women and all the Saints: People of great sacrifice, humility, compassion – people who pick up their cross and follow Jesus. of course, I also think of the 12 apostles. They were hand-picked by Jesus. They were the first disciples. They should be the model of discipleship. But, to be honest, had I been Jesus (not that I’m going to put myself in that category), I would not have chosen those guys as disciples. At least not the way they are described in the Gospel of Mark (which we've been reading every Sunday this Liturgical Year).
The Gospel of Mark can be divided into two main sections: The public ministry of Jesus; and the road to Calvary. These two sections are divided geographically: The first part takes place almost entirely in the north of Israel, in the Galilee region. This is where Nazareth, Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee are. This is where Jesus grew up and where all the apostles were from. The second part takes place in Jerusalem: the triumphal entry, the cleansing of the temple, the last supper, the agony in the garden, the betrayal and the passion, death and resurrection. All that takes place in Jerusalem. And the transition between these two sections happens as Jesus and his disciples, literally walk all the way from the northernmost point, Caesarea Philippi some 200kms down to Jerusalem, which is in the south. And this journey to Jerusalem is very much a transition from Jesus’ public ministry of healing, teaching and nourishing people to what had to happen on the Cross. This is where we've been in the Gospel of Mark for the last three weeks and we’re going to be here until the end of October (From 7:22-10:52). During this journey, three times Jesus tells the disciples what has to happen, but the disciples just don’t get it.
Peter shows great faith at the beginning of that journey at Caesarea Philippi with his proclamation of faith, when Jesus asks “who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Christ,” and not two seconds later when Jesus tells them that he has to be handed over to the authorities, suffer and die, Peter rebukes him and Jesus calls him Satan.
During this journey we also see the disciples not letting the children come to Jesus and the disciples arguing about who of them is the greatest. They can’t cast out a demon and can’t figure out why and James and John ask Jesus if they can sit at his right and left in Heaven.Then John tries to stop someone else who is casting out demons in Christ's name because he’s not one of their group. To all of this, I imagine Jesus saying, “really?”
But it's comforting to know that this has been human nature since the beginning. We hear in the Book of Numbers that Moses was dealing with the same issue. Moses complains to God that he can’t handle all the Israelites by himself and God tells him to select 70 men, elders in the community to help him. He says to take them to the Tent – that’s the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept – and God would take some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the 70 elders. So they go to the Tent and God sends his Spirit upon the elders and they begin to prophecy for a bit and then they stop. But two of them, Eldad and Medad, had not gone to the Tent, they stayed in the Camp, they still received the Spirit and began to prophesy and they continued to prophesy. Joshua tells Moses that Eldad and Medad are prophesying but they didn’t go to the Tent and asks if they stop them. Moses says, “Would that all God’s people were Prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them.” (Numbers 11:29)
Aren’t we the same? Proud, insecure, jealous and petty? At home, at work, at school, in our clubs and Parish groups? We don’t want to go to a particular social justice event because they are not “pro-life”, or to a worship event because they are not Catholic. Really? Jesus says that if we truly are Christian, we’re all on the same team. And if we feel that we are not good enough because we struggle with humility and jealousy and we don’t understand the Cross, we’re in good company, ‘cause that’s exactly where the 12 apostles were on the road to Jerusalem. If they were chosen as disciples, so can we be. God calls everyone. We don’t need to be perfect to be disciples, we just need to have faith.
And yes, faith is a gift. We have to pray for it. We have to ask for it. But having faith doesn’t mean that we don’t have doubts or that we understand everything the Church teaches. To be faithful disciples means that we’re in the Church, trying. If you're still not sure, The Letter of St. James (which we have been reading all month) is a great reminder that we show our faith through our works.
Who do I think of when I think of disciples? I think of you. Not because you’re perfect, but because you’re not perfect. You’re just like me, struggling just have to have faith. This is why Pope Benedict XVI has decreed a year of Faith to begin on October 11. It will begin on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council and end on November 24, 2013, which is the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Holy Father said that he hopes that this year of faith will inspire in all believers “the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.” Just as in the previous years of St. Paul and for Priests, there will be many activities and events in all Parishes and throughout all dioceses to commemorate the year of Faith. I hope all of you can participate.
So this is going to be a great year for us to work on our Faith, so we can be better disciples. Not to be perfect, but like the 12 apostles who were scared and confused and who didn’t understand. They struggled with jealousy and pride, but who gave their all to follow Christ.
That’s the kind of disciple that I can be. So can you.