INTRODUCTION

Mt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20 are known as the Great Commission. It is a commission given to all Christians. We are all required to make disciples of nations. We can’t begin to do this, however, unless we first become disciples ourselves. This is not as hard as some might imagine. With a little effort and a lot of grace—which is available to those who put in a little effort—we can all become good disciples of Christ.

But first, who is a disciple? A disciple of Christ is first and foremost a follower of Christ, who proceeds to learn what Jesus teaches, and then teaches others what he has learnt. He is someone who has walked with and lived with Jesus and who cannot have an existence without him.

A Follower

Lk 9:57 As they were going along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 But he said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

When the time came for Jesus to be taken up to heaven he set out to Jerusalem. On the way he had brief conversations with three people that are quite profound in the insights they provide us The first is a man who sees the crowds following Jesus and is attracted to him because of that, believing that Jesus might bring him power, glory, fame or fortune. Jesus asks him if he is aware what the cost of following him is.

The second is a man whom Jesus himself calls, much like he did the twelve apostles. But unlike the twelve, who left everything and followed Jesus, this man says there are obligations that he has to fulfill. Jesus tells him not to worry about that; he has another mission in mind and he will take care of whatever needs there are.

The third is a man who has been with Jesus for a while, but now wants a breather from the hard life that he has been leading. He wants some time out, but Jesus tells him that there is no quitting—not even temporarily—for those who have decided to follow Him.

Which of these three men most closely resembles you?

What is your motivation for following Jesus? It may be illuminating for you to write down your reasons for following
Jesus. Do you believe there are many blessings in store for you by following him? Do you think there might be an
escape route for you from what seems to be a miserable existence? Do you feel Jesus calling you like he did Peter
and the apostles? Spend a few minutes writing about it.
From Jesus’ replies to the men and a few other things that he said about discipleship, we can determine the characteristics that are found in a true follower of Christ, characteristics that we may not have in great abundance now, but will inherit as we travel on this journey.

1. A refusal to let anybody take precedence over Jesus

If we are to follow Jesus, he should have prime position of importance in our lives. Jesus says, “Lk 14:26 If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” The reasoning is simple. We will always want to please those we love the most and if we love a person more than we love Jesus we will always be in conflict about whom to please when the demands are contradictory.

2. A refusal to let anything take precedence over Jesus

Just as we shouldn’t let anyone supercede Jesus in importance, we shouldn’t let anything take precedence over him either. Jesus says, “Lk 14:33 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” He doesn’t expect us to climb up mountains and take residence there, forsaking everything in the world, but he does expect us not to cling to the things of the world.

3. A willingness to die to the things of the world

Jesus also says, “Lk 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” A lot of us believe that carrying one’s cross means carrying one’s burdens, but in Jesus’ time carrying one’s cross meant only one thing: death. It doesn’t necessarily mean dying physically; rather it means dying to oneself—to the passion, the greed, the lust, the desire for power and everything else that keeps us slaves to the world

4. A willingness to obey all he taught

Obedience to the teachings of Jesus is a prime requisite in following Jesus and it is something that he has stressed on numerous occasions. “Jn 8:31 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Another time he was extremely stern when he warned followers to be obedient: “Mt 7:21 Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

5. The ability to bear fruit

How does one tell a false prophet from a true one? By the fruit they bear (see Matthew 7:15-21). But it isn’t only a false prophet you can tell by the fruit they bear. You can tell a disciple of Christ by the fruit they bear too: the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control (cf. Galatians 5:21-22). “Jn 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples,” says Jesus.

6. A desire to love others as Jesus loved us

And finally we come to the most important characteristic of a disciple: a love for others that mirrors the love we receive from Jesus. In the Gospel of John we find Jesus saying, “Jn13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” There are three main components of love here as exemplified by Jesus: an unconditional love, a forgiving love and a self-sacrificing love.

A Learner

Mt 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We learn from Christ by taking his yoke upon ourselves and walking with him in tandem, doing what he would do. Jesus practiced everything he preached, and the following Scripture verses
illustrate some of the things that Jesus did that we need to do as well.

1. A desire to serve, rather than be served

One day Jesus told his apostles that he was going to die, but rather than being concerned about him, they were more concerned about themselves. Two of them, James and John, went to Jesus with a rather arrogant request. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” they said.
Hearing this, the other apostles got upset, because these were positions of importance that they, themselves, wanted. “Mk 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

2. A knowledge of the Word of God

We need to read Scripture because through it we find out how Jesus lived, and it is through his example that we can learn to live too. We also need to know it because it is, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, the “sword of the Spirit”.

We find Jesus wielding it to great effect in the desert when he was tempted by the devil.

”Mt 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.

3 And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

4 Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.

5 Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,

6 And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.

7 Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

8 Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,

9 And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.

10 Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.

11 Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.

3. A regular prayer life

One would think Jesus being the Son of God would not need to pray, but he prayed. And in doing so he shed light on the true nature of prayer, which is communication with God, not petitioning (although it could include that), and the importance of it. He prayed constantly, and when his fame with the ensuing crowds prevented him from praying at will, he would wake up early to spend time with his (and our) Father. “Mk 1:35 And in the morning, a great while
before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.”
He prayed all night before choosing his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12-13); he prayed before he performed miracles (John 11:41-42) and he prayed after them in thanksgiving (Matthew 15:36); he prayed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-29); he prayed for unity for the Church (John 17:23); he prayed before his Passion (Matthew 26:36-46); he prayed even from the cross! (Luke 23:34) He prayed everywhere for everybody and everything.

4. A deep sense of humility

Pride was the downfall of Satan. The Catechism says this: “CCC391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

Pride can be our downfall too, but we can learn to be humble in the manner of Jesus. During the Last Supper, Jesus “Jn 13:4 rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. 5 Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

5. A life of fasting and austerity

”Mt 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.”  Nobody suddenly takes off into the desert and fasts for forty days unless one has made a habit of it so it stands to reason that Jesus had been fasting regularly before he did this long fast. On more than one occasion he has suggested that his followers fast too (see Mark 9:29, Matthew 9:15, Matthew 6:16). Not only does it make for good spiritual discipline, fasting also increases our dependance on God.

6. A life of subservience to the will of God

It isn’t easy being subservient to the will of God, because not only is it difficult at times, it can also be very painful. Jesus understood this all too well and in the Garden of Gethsemane he sweated blood as he begged that the cup that awaited him—more than the physical torture it was the pain of separation from the Father that tore into him—be taken away.  “Lk 22:42 Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done,” he said.

A Teacher

Mt 28:20 “(Go,) teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Teaching others about Jesus is a natural consequence of following Jesus and learning from him.  It is also something we are required to do as disciples. In the great commission given to all those who believe in him, Jesus asks us to do these things:

1. To evangelize
“Mk 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”  One does not need to have a microphone in hand and a thousand people in the audience to preach. St. Francis of Assisi had it right when he said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary use words.” Evangelization is simply having Jesus in your heart and sharing him with others.

2. To minister
“Mt 10:8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay.” Part of the Great Commission includes the commission to perform miracles in Jesus’ name, something that many of us sadly do not believe applies to us, even though it is something that Jesus has repeated on several occasions, notably in Luke 9 and 10, Mark 16, Matthew 10 and John 15.

3. To teach
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a valuable storehouse of the faith that we would be well advised to use, states that “CCC 75,76 Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline.”
I n ke e p i n g w i t h t h e Lo rd ’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”; (and) in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.  We are required to transmit this faith, teaching it to everybody beginning with our family and those closest to us.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

» Jesus speaks about some of the characteristics of a disciple that include a refusal to let anybody or anything take precedence over Jesus. What are some of the things that you consider really important in your life that might vie for your attention?

» Paul in his letter to the Galatians mentions nine fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. The CCC mentions three more: generosity, modesty and chastity. Which of these fruit do you not bear in abundance and why?

» We find the command to “Love your neighbor” even in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 19:18). What is new about the command Jesus gives us in John 13:34 and why does it seem difficult, if not impossible? How can we make it easier to obey this command?

» Which aspects of Jesus’ life that we have seen—servanthood, Scriptural knowledge, prayerfulness, humility, fasting, austerity, and subservience to God—seem particularly difficult for us to follow and how can we find ways of implementing them in our lives?

» Now that you have discovered what it takes for us to be disciples, do you have second thoughts about following Jesus? Or are you just waiting to get started?

 

Daily Meditation by(c) 2013 Don Schwager
Bible Story illustrations by publishing.com 

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