The cost of our discipleship
Reflecting on today’s readings, especially the call of Samuel and of Andrew and his brother, I remembered something that the German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison in Nazi Germany, that “only by living unreservedly in this life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities … does one become a man and a Christian.” Bonhoeffer experienced what he called so poignantly “the cost of discipleship.”
The Prophet Samuel and Andrew and Simon Peter experienced this cost in their own lives. First let us consider the story of Samuel’s call – a dramatic story exemplifying the dynamics of God’s call, and offering to us a model to follow in our own lives. Eli was old and nearly blind. His sons, who were the priests of the temple, had been unfaithful to God. Their time was nearing an end, so God called Samuel to begin a new era.
Samuel needed help in discerning his call, and Eli’s wisdom and friendship with the young man were necessary so that Samuel could really hear the Lord’s voice. Once Samuel recognized that it was truly the Lord who was calling him, he became the great prophet who would discern God’s will regarding religious, social and political matters for the people.
When we come before the Lord to listen to his Word, our deepest prayer and cry of the heart should be: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” But is it not true that that cry often turns out to be: “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!”
At the 2008 world Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Diocese of Imus in the Philippines, made one of the most significant interventions. Bishop Tagle spoke about the disposition of listening to God’s Word that leads people to true life. He said: “Listening is a serious matter. The Church must form hearers of the Word. But listening is not transmitted only by teaching but more by a milieu of listening.”
Bishop Tagle proposed three points to develop a disposition of listening:
- Listening in faith means opening one’s heart to God’s Word, allowing it to penetrate and transform us, and practicing it. It is equivalent to obedience in faith. Formation in listening is integral to faith formation.
- Events in our world show the tragic effects of the lack of listening: conflicts in families, gaps between generations and nations, and violence. People are trapped in a milieu of monologues, inattentiveness, noise, intolerance and self- absorption. The Church can provide a milieu of dialogue, respect, mutuality and self-transcendence.
- God speaks and the Church, as servant, lends its voice to the Word. But God does not only speak. God also listens, especially to the just, widows, orphans, persecuted, and the poor who have no voice. The Church must learn to listen the way God listens and must lend its voice to the voiceless.
In the Gospel story for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is Jesus who takes the initiative or the first step. His question to the disciples is intriguing: “What are you looking for?” (1:38). Far from any simple interrogation, these words are deeply religious and theological questions. “Why” Jesus asks, “are you turning to me for answers?” They ask him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (v 38). The verb “live,” “stay,” “remain,” “abide,” “dwell,” “lodge,” occurs 40 times in the Fourth Gospel. It is a verb that expresses concisely John’s theology of the indwelling presence.
The disciples are not only concerned about where Jesus might sleep that night, but they are really asking where he has his life. Jesus responds to them: “Come and see” (v 39). Two loaded words throughout John’s Gospel: to “come” to Jesus is used to describe faith in him (cf. John 5:40; 6:35, 37, 45; 7:37); for John, to “see” Jesus with real perception is to believe in him.
The disciples began their discipleship when they went to see where he was staying and “they remained with him that day” (John 1:39). They responded to his invitation to believe, discovered what his life was like, and they “stayed on”; they began to live in him, and he in them. After Andrew had grown in his knowledge of who Jesus was, he “found his brother” Simon (Peter) and “brought him to Jesus (v 41, 42). This whole experience will be fulfilled when the disciples see his glory on the cross.
What can we learn from the call stories in today’s readings? We are never called for our own sake, but for the sake of others. Israel was called by God for the benefit of the godless around it. God calls all Christians for the sake of the world in which we live.
To be called does not require perfection on our behalf, only fidelity and holy listening. Samuel and the prophets of Israel, the fishermen of Galilee and even the tax collectors that Jesus called were certainly not called because of their qualifications or achievements. Paul says that Jesus calls “the foolish,” so that the wise will be shamed. It is a dynamic call that involves a total response on our part. We will never be the same because he has called us, loved us, changed us and made us into his image. Because he has called us, we have no choice but to call others to follow him.
How have you been called away from the routine of your life, away from the frustrations of daily life and work? What new purpose do you find emerging in your life because of the ways that God has called you? Through whom have you encountered the call of the Lord in your life? Have you called anyone to follow the Lord recently?
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation