What does the word ‘disciple’ mean?
It means to be a learner or a follower. Sounds boring, right? That’s probably because we don’t quite grasp learning and following as the ancients did. Nowadays, any true notion of learning has been nearly K.O.ed by function-based “information bulimia.” ‘Learning’ is understood as binging and purging ‘facts and stuff’ for the efficient attainment of some production-based result. But, we all feel in our bones: that ain’t learning – certainly not the Biblical understand of learning.
In Jesus’ time, to be a learner (a disciple) was to put all of your chips in the center of the table. It was going ‘all in.’ To be disciple of a particular rabbi would mean to leave home, live with him, eat with him, listen to him and go with him wherever he went. In a sense, you gave him your life. And, as you followed, you would receive his teaching, guidance and formation. In sitting at his feet, you would be wholly formed to the wisdom of your master. You would learn and be conformed to his way of life. This kind of learning involved interior and exterior life-change. Because he was someone you loved and trusted (indeed had given your life to), your whole life would be conformed to the life of your master.
One can’t help but respect the cojones of ancient folk. They didn’t dabble with this and that lifestyle, keep their options open or stick their toes in a thousand ponds to see which titillated their fancy. They made decisions, man! They knew they only had so many chips to cash in and so many hands to play (probably because life was shorter then), so they took the risk and committed themselves to something that would form them toward a higher purpose.
This is what disciples did. Knowing that life is short – and knowing that they needed to be formed to something other than just their own mixed bag of Snapple-cap ideas about life – they gave themselves totally as apprentices and followers to those who knew what life was about.
This can hit home in a couple of ways.
- We ought to realize that we need to be discipled. With one honest glance at ourselves we can see that we don’t have all the answers. We need to be formed. We need shaping.
- We ought to realize that a life not committed to something (a life not given away) is hopelessly meaningless. Be not afraid to cash in all your chips!
- We ought to consider: who will be our master?
If Jesus is who He said He is, then that changes the whole ballgame. The decision is practically made for us. He isn’t just some guy. He isn’t a guru, a prophet a sage or a wise man. He is GOD and, as such, He is our Lord. Who else would we follow? How can we help but claim Him as our Master? How can we help but give ourselves to Him as His disciples? How can we help but cash in all our chips with Him? Moreover, if He is our Lord, then there can be no half-hearted, lukewarm ‘commitments’ here. It’s ‘I will follow you’ or ‘I won’t follow you.’ It’s all or nothing. He Himself said as much:
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. (Matthew 12:30)
This is what it means to be Catholic. It doesn’t mean to follow some ancient tradition that has a lot of good ideas. It doesn’t mean to live in past experiences. To be Catholic means to be a disciple of Jesus – a real person who is alive right now and who wants to guide us, free us and lead us on mission. St. John Paul II said it best:
To be Catholic means to live with the conviction that Jesus Christ is alive and He is moving among us to change lives.
In a sense, to be Catholic means that our lives are over. We now belong to the King and live in His Life. St. Paul sets us straight:
And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body [with all that you are]. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
We no longer belong to ourselves; in fact, we never did. We belong to Him. He is our Master – one that is unutterably good.
And now the challenge:
- Do we know Jesus like this?
- Do we live with Him and walk with Him in this intimate way?
- Do we know and experience Him as one who acts in our lives, guides us, heals us, frees us, loves us to perfection and takes us on His mission to save souls?
Jesus is alive! Jesus is our Lord! Cash in your chips! Sell the farm! Have some cojones! Loose your sails! Send the ship out of the harbor and out to sea! Stop making mud pies in the dirt and run into the ocean! Be His disciple! Follow Him and be formed by Him!
Come to His courts – the King has things to teach you.