This Sunday’s Gospel portrays through the life of Jesus some important disciplines for disciples. Let’s look at them and see how to apply them to our lives today.
I. Purposefulness – The text says, When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him.
Note that Jesus was resolute. He was heading to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise; to undertake the great battle and the great mission entrusted to Him. Everything He did was to be oriented toward this goal.
What about us? Are we as determined to seek Christ and head for His Kingdom? Is our direction clear? Have we set our sights resolutely, or do we meander about? Are we on the highway to Heaven, or do we make compromises with this passing world, seeking to serve two masters? Notice how easily we take exits for sin city, vicious village, and injustice junction.
Our goal is to set our face like flint and pursue the Jerusalem of Heaven, just as Jesus set His face toward the Jerusalem of this earth to accomplish His mission.
Scripture speaks often of developing a firm and unequivocal resolve, of being purposeful and single-hearted in our determination to follow Jesus and set our sights on Heaven.
This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13).
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:4).
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Mat 6:24).
There is one thing I ask of the LORD, this alone I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life and gaze upon the beauty of the LORD (Ps 27:4).
Are you focused? Purposeful? What is the one thing you do? Concentration is the secret of power. Water over a large area is a stagnant pond, but in a narrow channel it is a powerful river.
The first discipline of discipleship is to be purposeful, determined, single-hearted, and focused in our pursuit of the Lord and His kingdom.
II. Perseverance – The text says, On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.
James and John are angry at and discouraged by the rejection of Jesus and the values of the Kingdom, but He Jesus rebukes their desire for retaliation.
Notice how Jesus stays focused on His task. Rejected here, He moves forward. He does not let the devil distract Him or His disciples from the task of proclaiming the Word whether in season or out of season, popular or unpopular, accepted or rejected. Keep preaching; keep plowing; keep walking. Do not give up; do not grow angry; just keep working. Leave judgment to God. For now, just preach, teach, warn, and admonish.
And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. … and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next (Matt 10:14, 22).
Yes, persevere! Remember, we’re called to be faithful, not successful. We need to persevere not just in the face of rejection, but in the face of trials, temptations, setbacks, sorrows, hurts, hardships, failures, and frustrations. Preach, teach, and be tenacious. Remember to trust in Jesus. They killed Him, but He rose.
Many have announced the end of faith. Many have sworn that they will bury the Church, but she has buried every one of her would-be undertakers. They dug our grave but fell into it themselves. Yes, we read the funeral rites over them. We have outlived every opponent.
No weapon waged against us will prevail. Long after the current confusion and pride of the decadent West has gone, the Church will still exist, preaching Christ and Him crucified.
III. Poverty – The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Here is another critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us. Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if, in fact, being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?
In this verse Jesus’ potential disciple seems to have power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he sees Jesus as a political messiah and wants to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s Kingdom is not of this world.
We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only can riches not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.
The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that wealth is seldom our lot. Why is this? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful short cuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less opulent place to lay their heads. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.
Yes, poverty is a discipline of discipleship. What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.
Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that’s poor! But it also means freedom from the many duties, obligations, and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your things. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.
Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered.
IV. Promptness (readiness) – The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple.”
Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because we have to get a few things resolved first. It’s the familiar “I’ll do tomorrow.”
There is a peril in procrastination. Too many people always push things off to tomorrow, but tomorrow is not promised. In the Scriptures there is one word that jumps out over and over again; it’s the word now.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
… behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).
That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.
There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man. The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there is a Hell; most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there is no Hell or that there is no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “Now that’s the plan!”
Yes, promptness is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.
V. Permanence – The text says, And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
When we accepted Christ, we set our hand to the gospel plow and we left certain things behind. We are not to return to those things, things like harmful habits, ruinous relationships, soul-killing sinfulness, and perilous pleasures.
Yes, there are some things that we used to do that we have no business doing now. We need to give up our former ways and not look back.
Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ, assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:17-23).
Therefore, brothers, make every effort to make permanent your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:10).
An old spiritual says,
“Hold on, Hold on! If you want to get to heaven let me tell you how, keep your hands on the Gospel plow! Keep your hands on the plow and hold on! Hold on. When you plow that field don’t lose your track, can’t plow straight and keep a-lookin’ back. Keep your hands on the plow and hold on, hold on!”
Persevere. Hold on and don’t let go.
Here, then, are five disciplines of discipleship. Learn about them and seek them from the Lord. Without them we will surely perish.
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Five Disciplines of Discipleship – A Homily for the 13th Sunday of the Year