Guest post from my pops, who is the Director of Philosophy and Religion at Philippine Christian University and English pastor at Central UMC, both in Manila.
Being a Disciple
I want to talk about a very popular subject matter in the New Testament, something almost all Christians have some idea about. Discipleship. While it is a common word circulated among Christians, it is not uncommon to find misunderstanding about its meaning, its application, and its importance. This misunderstanding and confusion is evident during prayer meetings, Sunday School sessions, and the way it is perceived and understood by those seating on the pews come Sunday worship.
The NT record in Matthew 10: 1-4 and Mark 3:13-19, tell us Jesus is on a recruiting trip to name people to be part of his team. Disciples. Eventually, out of large crowds he talked to, named people familiar to us: Simon Peter, Matthew, Thomas James, etc. The Mattew and Mark records gave us names, told us who were those chosen to perform special and sensitive parts in Jesus’ ministry. Not much.
In Luke 14: 25-33, it is important for us to take note that on the subject matter of discipleship–of who is a disciple–what they do is far more important than who they are. Whether you are a male or a female, young or older, last name well-known or not, rural or city folk, where you originate from, less schooled or not, what is important is what do you do to qualify as a disciple. Functional, not biographical.
In the scheme of Jesus’ plan of ministry to serve the last and the lost and the least, discipleship is functional. This is to say those who enlisted, signed up to join God’s army in Jesus, it is what we do to serve God’s spirit that matters. Not name. Not one’s station in life. Not one’s connection or ability to bring more resources to the church, although they are all important and crucial to the success of our organizational operation.
I am not sure if Jesus was challenging or teasing the crowd when he said, “you cannot be my disciple.” You can’t be my disciple “unless you love me more than your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters…You cannot come with me unless you love me more than your own life…you cannot be my disciple unlesss you carry your own cross and come with me…you cannot be my disciple unless you give away everything you own.”
After reading this, who do you think in his or her right mind still wants to become a disciple? Honestly, after reading this do you still want to be a disciple? We have a ritual for accepting new members. But we don’t really have a ritual or order of service for those signing up to sell their belongings; to love their parents, siblings or their very own life less so they could become a disciple.
I want to reflect on this very demanding call to discipleship as something to aspire for, something to challenge all would-be followers. To not think lightly the consequences of what it is to be a learner, a follower, a student of the cross, someone who stand by the side of history and admires the lives of the early disciples, the saints, those who literally denied themselves of huge inheritances, those who left the family they loved to follow Christ for the sake of those without family, to make others rich by their life of simplicity, to spend all their energies, time, talent, to serve those where Christ is most needed.
Given the above harsh and hard definition of what it is to be a disciple, is it possible for us today to become one? I hope so. I believe so. We are still in the journey of faith. Wesley did mention about us being “living onto “perfection.” Bonhoeffer did use the word “come of age.” We are in the process of becoming, coming to be! Or, borrow a bumper sticker that says, “God is not finish with me yet.”
Wesley talks about the “means of grace.” He was telling early Methodists to access themselves to the God who is accessible. Maybe, just maybe, if we frequently attend learning sessions to know more about God, come to prayer meetings, take communion always as fresh nourishment to our dry spirit, a functional understanding of discipleship could be had. And then we could truthfully say, “I am a disciple.” Well, not quite but I am getting there.