Serving or self-serving? – Monday, 13th week in ordinary time – Matthew 8:18-22
As Christians we are disciples of Jesus our Lord and master. The essential characteristic of the Christian life is discipleship. However, while the agenda of Christ our Lord is clear the agenda of the disciple may not be so especially if the disciples have expectations of their own. The very word disciple comes from a Greek word which when translated into English could best be expressed as ‘one who thinks things through.’ Discipleship is not some membership in a cozy club given to us at Baptism. Discipleship is falling in line with a predetermined program which is not up for review or negotiation by the disciple. Disciples must therefore be single minded and have one Lord and one Master.
Perhaps all this is too hard for some of us to handle; sadly, many have got used to being in the Church where everything is a negotiation with several variable options that suit our life and schedules; from Sunday Mass to Church teaching. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” The question we must ask ourselves is what kind of disciples do we desire to be? Serving or self-serving?
Why are we following Jesus? Take a moment and ask yourself this; why do you call yourself a Christian? Do you have expectations from Our Lord? In the Gospel of today the Lord encounters ‘wanna-be’ disciples. They want to be his disciples perhaps because they saw Jesus as this ‘cool dude,’ a new kid on the block with some radical teaching that took on the Jewish religious authorities. Whatever their expectations, the Lord in answering the scribe and ‘another of his disciples’ makes his position clear; with him you will find no easy life, no earthly possessions; while foxes have fox holes and birds rest in their nests with Jesus you will find no earthly creature comforts. A decision to follow Jesus is to step forward into insecurity
The Gospel text in our Bibles is titled ‘the would-be followers of Jesus’; and while the title seems to have passed judgment over the would-be disciples, we will have to see what the text actually intends to teach us. Let us examine these two teachings. In both cases Jesus is approached by someone; a scribe and then a disciple. The scribe, by his very qualification was a lettered man and the many teachings of Jesus must have impacted him. He offers to become not simply an approving admirer but a permanent disciple of Jesus. With self-confidence he promises to follow Jesus for better or for worse, not stopping to consider what such a commitment involves. Jesus throws him a word of caution so that he considers his decision well. Rabbis at the time of Jesus were often paid by their students to be part of their school of learning. Jesus simply states that his school of learning has no structure nor does he own anything. We are not told if the scribe continued to be a disciple or left the Lord. The scriptures are silent on this; although the title which was added much later in the 1800’s, seems to suggest so.
The second follower was already a disciple of the Lord. He wants to dedicate his life to Jesus but only after settling all his family matters. Jesus’ retort on the surface seemed unkind and uncaring when he said to him. “Let the dead bury their dead.” In a culture where family was so important and honoring one’s parents was both commanded and expected, the man’s request seems reasonable enough. While the text seems to indicate that the disciple’s father has just passed away and the disciple seeks permission to do the most honourable thing, the reality is that this statement was more of a generic way of saying, ‘I will come and serve you only when my father passes away’. For Jesus, the call to be a disciple is urgent and immediate. It is a not something that we commit ourselves to when all things are settled in our life or some post retirement plan.
Ask yourself today, am I a disciple or just a part time fan?