Jesus said to his Apostles: “No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master (Mt 10:24-25).
Following the teachings and guidance of Jesus was hard for his apostles and disciples then and it is for us now. To live as authentic disciples, we need to learn and put his teachings into practice. That means more than reading some of his teachings: love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul and your neighbor as yourself, turn the other cheek, and what you do to the least of my brothers, you did it to me, and acknowledging, that, “That is some good stuff!” Then just moving on to the next thing on the to-do list.
Living as a disciple also happens in a public way, which means public scrutiny. One thing we all have in common as human beings is that we want to belong, to fit in, and to be a part of. We risk rejection and ridicule by following Jesus and living as his disciple because we run up against our own fallen nature and the fallen nature of others. Jesus said he would be sending us as sheep among wolves and in today’s reading, he announces that we are not to be afraid of those who kill the body. Not exactly the kind of encouragement many of us look for.
Yet, Jesus affirms more than once in today’s Gospel that we are not to be afraid. Jesus leads us to the most important relationship that we will develop and that is with his Father. God cares for us, just as Jesus said, as his Father cares for the sparrows, but even more. God knows us by name and we are his, we belong to him. God, our loving Father, has known us not only before we were born, but before all creation began. We were never, nor are we now, nor will we ever be alone. As we risk, grow in confidence, and begin to live our life in alignment, in relationship with Jesus and God through the love of the Holy Spirit, we will begin to become unified with him so to feel a joy and a fulfillment that is unmatched.
One of the keys to living the Christian life is understanding that it is more than a philosophy, a set of teachings, or a theology. Being a Christian means building our relationship with a person. Jesus is that person, and turning to him, through our ups and downs, and in risking to share our stories of faith with others, we invite others to join us, because as we develop our relationship with him, we also are to build relationships with others. Some will decline, some will sneer, some will be outright hostile, and yet some will say yes.
What is important is that we stay true to Jesus and follow his lead, then we will be truer to ourselves and who we have been created to be. In being willing to share our faith journey with others, in bringing Jesus to others that he may minister and be present through us, we come to experience the fulfillment and joy of the relationship with him that we have been created for.
As our relationship with Jesus deepens, we will experience more intimate relationships because we will be less turned in upon ourselves and more present, patient with, and open to giving ourselves to others. We will also experience the wonder and connectedness to God’s creation in a deeper way because we begin to not only see the footprints of God in the beauty of his creation, but we will see the natural world and each other through his eyes.
In “becoming like the teacher” we are not just modeling his teachings, we are becoming deified – becoming one with God while at the same time becoming more authentically ourselves through our participation in the life of Jesus through the love of the Holy Spirit. Following Jesus will not mean we will gain all the answers to life, but it does mean we will be more aware of his presence during each step of our journey through this life.
I still have no answer from God as to how or why JoAnn died from pancreatic cancer, but I am thankful that we continued to draw close to Him once we knew JoAnn’s time was so short. I am grateful for the peace that we experienced from his presence as well as the gift of us continuing to grow closer during our final months together. My invitation is to resist taking any moment for granted and appreciate the gift of God and those we are blessed to have in our lives.
Photo: Enjoying each other and some of God’s creation mid-July two years ago at Echo Park in Los Angeles.