Five Disciplines of Discipleship – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 13th Sunday of the Year

062913The Gospel today portrays for us some disciplines that are important for disciples. They are portrayed in the life of Jesus, but are to be applied by us. Lets look at them each in turn.

I. Purposefulness The text says, When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, [Jesus] 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, just as he announced in last week’s gospel. He is heading there to undertake the great battle, and the great mission entrusted to him. Everything he did was to be oriented to this goal.

What about us? Are we as resolute in our determination to seek Christ and head for his Kingdom? Is our direction clear? Have we set our sites resolutely, or do we meander about, chasing butterflies. Are we on the highway to heaven? Or do we make easy compromises with this passing world and seek to serve two masters?

Yes,  notice how easily we takes exits and diversions to to sin city, vicious village and injustice junction.

Our goal is to set our face like flint to the Jerusalem of Heaven, as Jesus set his face toward the Jerusalem of this earth to accomplish his mission and task.

Scripture speaks often of developing a firm and unequivocal resolve, to be purposeful and single-hearted in our determination to follow Jesus and set our sites on heaven:

  1. 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
  2. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.  James 1:4
  3. 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
  4. 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. Yet, in a narrow channel it is a powerful river.

The first discipline of discipleship is to be purposeful, to be 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.

Note that James and John are angry and discouraged at the rejection of Jesus and the values of the Kingdom. But Jesus rebukes their desire for retaliation.

Notice how Jesus stays at his task. Rejected here, he moves forward. He does not let the devil distract him or his disciples from the task of persistently proclaiming the Word, in season or our of season, popular or unpopular, accepted or rejected. Just persevere, 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, instruct, warn and admonish.

Scripture says,

And if any one 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 and temptations, setbacks and sorrows, hurts and hardships, failures and frustrations. Preach, persevere, teach, be tenacious. Remember too, trust in Jesus. They killed him but he rose.

Many too have announced the end of faith, have sworn that they will bury the Church and that the days of faith are over. But the Church has buried every one of her undertakers. They dug our grave, but fell in it themselves. Yes, we read the funeral rite over them instead and have outlived every opponent.

No weapon waged against us will prosper. Long after the current confusion and pride of the decadent West is gone, the Church will still exist, preaching Christ, and Him crucified. Persevere! A Critical discipline of discipleship.

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 too is a critical discipline of discipleship: to follow Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us, but is outright taken from us. Here is a critical question: 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 it following Jesus gave you, no earthly gain? What if, in fact, being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, even prison or death? Would you still follow? Would you still be a disciple?

In this verse the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and he wanted to be on the “inside track.” So 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 might actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. You see there’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity and a worry in wealth.

The Lord Jesus here points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it come to being disciples. Frankly this is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well our “poverty” or lack of wealth derives from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t just take any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with unscrupulous people. We won’t lie on our resume, cheat on 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.

Now the world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do its bidding. But true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing they reject the temporary rewards of this earth, and may have a less opulent place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion, or attain to power.

And thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship. What is “poverty?” It is the capacity to be free from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.

Jesus had “nowhere to lay his head.” That’s poor, but it is also to be free of the many duties, obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you, or threaten your stuff. You’re free and “have nothing to lose.”

Most of us have too much to lose, and so we are not free and our discipleship is hindered.

Poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.

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!”

And so the point of Jesus is that if he didn’t have this excuse he’d have some other. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some “reason” that we can’t follow whole-heartedly today but have to get a few things resolved first.

It’s the old problem: Tomorrow!

There is a peril in procrastination. Too many look to tomorrow. But tomorrow is not promised. But in the scriptures there is one word that jumps out over and over again, it is the word “NOW.”

  1. Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD:
  2. 2 Cor 6:2 …behold, now is the day of salvation.
  3. Ps 95:7 Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart,
  4. Prov 27:1 Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth.

That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! Better choose the Lord today, for tomorrow very well might be too late. Now is the day of salvation.

Indeed, there were three demons who told Satan of their plan to destroy a certain man. The first demon said, “I am going to tell him there is no hell.” But Satan said, “People know there there is a hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I am going to tell him there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, there is a God, for He has written his name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I am not going to tell them there is no hell or no God, I am going to tell them there is no hurry.” And Satan said, You’re the Man! That’s the plan!”

Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. To not put off for tomorrow what must be done today is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to joyfully run to what God promises without delay.

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:

Scripture says,

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).

And again,

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 hand on the plow and hold on, Hold on!

Persevere, hold on, don’t let go, keep a inching along like a poor old inch worm. Stay, hold, keep, walk, and don’t look back!

Perseverance is a discipline of discipleship.

Here then are five disciplines of the discipleship. Learn of them and seek them from the Lord. Without them we will surely perish.

9 Replies to “Five Disciplines of Discipleship – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 13th Sunday of the Year”

  1. Wonderful!

    Thank you Msgr.

    I would like to think I was doing 0K until I got to No. IV, Promptness. Thank you for you summation and elaboration on the Gospel. I will make a list of these great disciplines and pray on it.


  2. Amen.

    Back to the topic of Descartes. His famous claim was: “I think therefore I am.” Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas describes how we arrive at self-awareness: “And there is yet another, namely, the human intellect, which neither is its own act of understanding, nor is its own essence the first object of its act of understanding, for this object is the nature of a material thing. And therefore that which is first known by the human intellect is an object of this kind, and that which is known secondarily is the act by which that object is known; and through the act the intellect itself is known, the perfection of which is this act of understanding. For this reason did the Philosopher assert that objects are known before acts, and acts before powers (De Anima ii, 4).(S. T.: p.1, q.87, a.3)” St. Thomas says that first our minds must go into the world of material things before we arrive at self-awareness or self-reflection. If one denies the validity of the world material thing one thereby removes the first step in the process by which we come to self-awareness or self-reflection.

    This idea to help end abortion came to me this morning: require by law that abortion providers post in large print the foundling laws of that particular state in both the abortion providers waiting room and the all other rooms that the public enters. Also, require by law that both the front desk people and the abortion provider himself be required to state the foundling laws of that particular state to the person considering an abortion. Also, require by law that the abortion provider’s office give to anyone considering an abortion an 3 inch by 5 inch card with that particular state’s foundling laws written on it. A law like this could be framed in Nancy Pelosi-speak, for instance, calling it the Woman’s Reproductive Choices Information Act. A law like this could both save lives and stir the consciences of people who provide abortions. I think it would be beautiful and hilarious if many, many Planned Parenthood offices went out of business as a result of information that they themselves provided. To the best of my recollection, 49 of the 50 states have foundling laws of one sort or another.

    Laws could also be passed that abortion providers be required to give people seeking abortion literature on both the psychological and the physical risk involved with having an abortion.

  3. Thank you for this! What a powerful essay. I really needed this encouragement today. Blessings!

  4. I thank you for this wisdom! My reflection on it today enabled me to be honest about my sinfulness. The priest after Mass today was gracious to hear my confession as a result. Praise Jesus! Praise the Holy Spirit working through you!

  5. Thank you for this article msgr Pope,it was great.Msgr could you please pray for me,i would really like to have these 5 disciplines.Im a procrastinator i never finish anythingh i start i want to have a better spirtual life please pray for me.God Bless You Debbie.

  6. Also, Monsignor Pope, I realized what I like about your idea of rejecting the word marriage, while taking a walk today: it is a way of turning the other cheek.

  7. I read your blog often through I always appreciate the words that you write. This one that you have written has spoken to me the loudest. This blog post has said something powerful to me. Thank you for the work you do and for saying yes to God’s call.

  8. Sadly I have yet to get past the first three disciplines which are probably the easier of the five. Procrastination is a flaw almost to the point of rebellion against tasks that I have no interest in doing. I fall short of number five as a results of number four which seems to keep my life in a consuming worldly cycle of commitments and unfulfilled responsibilities. What we read here in the gospel is not the situation each is faced with today. Christ is not physically telling us as a group of followers to walk away from what we are doing anymore than the Church is asking it’s followers to leave all their created worldly reponsibilities behind and follow the preists. I am not trying to sound flippant. The preist’s and nun’s, decons and religious orders are the closest you could find to such a commitment and the rest of us can only support and follow under that shepherding.

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