Today let’s go back to the time of Jesus’ public ministry andsee how you would react to his message. You are a good and faithful Jew; however, your living conditions are difficult. You live a nomadic existence. Life is hard. You have littlein the way of wealth and possessions. You live under the difficult laws that the Pharisees have laid down, even following your faith is difficult, especially when you see that the Pharisees find ways to skirt around their own laws.
Now a friend of yours tells you about this young new Rabbi from Nazareth. You go out to listen to his message. On the first day as you were there listening to him, you see Jesus interact with a very rich man. You hear him say this: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”(Mark 10:21)
Wow this is your kind of Rabbi. He is preaching against the ills of wealth and as one who has little wealth you welcome this message. You eagerly return the next day. This day after witnessing a poor widow make a contribution to the treasury you here Jesus say this to the crowd: “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”(Mark 12:43-44)
You are very rapidly becoming a fan of this new Rabbi. So again you return the next day. This day you invited some of your friends and relatives to join you. You are anxious to hear more of what he has to say. As Jesus was interacting with the Scribes and Pharisees you hear him scold them with these words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.”(Mt. 23:23)and he does not stop there he continues by saying: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”(Mt. 23:25-26)
Man, now you know you love this guy. He has put the rich and the haughty in their place. He called the Pharisees and Scribes onto the carpet for their behavior. You can’t wait to find out what tomorrow’s message will be.
Now, just as you were becoming a huge fan of this guy and you have brought others to come and listen with you, he surprises you today when he points his finger in your direction. You had grown to like his rhetoric about the rich and the Scribes and Pharisees but now he is speaking directly to you and what he says seems so much more challenging. Looking directly at you he says: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Okay maybe that is not so bad. You can repent. You know you are a sinner. You decide you can live with this teaching. But he goes on and continues to challenge you with this statement; “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)Next though, the Rabbi adds emphasis to his remarks looking squarely at you and saying: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk: 14:27)
What is this “deny yourself” stuff all about and for goodness sakes what does he mean when he says you must “take up your cross”? More importantly why did he point to you and use the word “disciple”? Does he expect you to be a disciple? After all, you know that to be a disciple means to become a student, a pupil, a follower of the master. Why is he saying this to you?
Your thoughts are spinning. You say to yourself; “me a disciple?” Then you hear this: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32)
A thought occurs to you reminding you that you did come out here to listen to this Rabbi in pursuit of the truth. Maybe, just maybe, you can be his disciple. But he goes on to state further: “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
Wow, you are still not sure if this is for you. Your mind is flooded with all of the things you have on your plate: your family commitments, your work and the livestock you have to care for, and the challenges of your everyday life. Perhaps this discipleship thing is a bit too much. Just then another man comes up and asks the Rabbi if he can go bury his father before following him and Jesus replies: “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)
You begin to ponder. Did you make a mistake coming to hear this man? Has this all been a waste of time? Just then as you are suggesting to your friends that you leave, Jesus is heard saying these profound words; “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:45)
Did he just say he was willing to give his life up for you? Maybe you will stay just a little longer. You wonder to yourself, is this the one that Isaiah and the prophets had foretold? Is this man the Messiah? And that cross comment he made the other day, was he telling you he will die on a cross?
Just one day later Jesus opines; “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:35)
You sit there trying to get this all straight in your head. This Rabbi, is calling himself the son of God, he is foretelling his death on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. He is calling you to repent, to become a disciple and to love others as you love yourself. He has told you to deny yourself and to serve others. You think to yourself, this must be the messiah and you believe in him.
About the time you are ready to commit yourself to him things start to fall apart. The next day he is arrested, and then tried. He is scourged, whipped and beaten. You stand there in amazement this is your Lord, your king, your messiah yet you hear him being sentenced to die on a cross. You remember what he predicted. You are there to witness this cruel punishment and you see his lifeless body buried in a tomb.
Three days later you hear the wonderful amazing news. Jesus is alive! The news spreads and you arefilled with joy. Then on that fateful day after he had been raised from the dead you heard him say: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19)
Yes my friends back then and still today he not only calls us to be his disciples but to go make others disciples. Notice here he does not call us merely to be good Christians, he does not just call us to a profession of faith. Instead, Jesus calls us to be disciples and to go make disciples. Is this important? The new testament mentions the word “disciple” 261 times!
So in closing what does this mean for us today? It means we must come to understand the power of the cross. Pope Benedict XVI in an address told us that Paul made it clear with impressive force and that it is good to hear directly from his words: “for the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1: 18-23).
“The cross reveals God’s love for us. In the cross God reconciled us to himself without imputing our sins to us. The cross challenges us to enter this “ministry of reconciliation” that always implies relinquishing one’s superiority and opting for the folly of love.”
“We must all model our lives on this true wisdom: we must not live for ourselves but must live in faith in that God of whom we can all say: “he loved me and gave himself for me”. This is the definition of real love!
We are called to be much more than fans of Jesus. We are called to be much more than friends with Jesus. We are called to be Disciples of Jesus. We are also called to “make disciples“.
This calling is huge! Many have given their lives for this calling. What about you? Are you a fan of Jesus or are you a Disciple of Jesus? The decision is yours to make.
Jesus I want to be your disciple, lead me on by the power of your cross! Amen.