True Disciple Of Christ. What is true discipleship?
Silence stood frozen! The unusual vagueness in their Master’s words suspended for a few seconds the breath of His disciples! ‘Returning to Judea?’ (John 11:7). How absurd is his decision? No sooner did they hear the name ‘Judea’ than horror thundered in the corners of their hearts! It is not very long since our Master and we had evaded the hands of those barbarians over there! Hearing the teachings of the Master they had rushed towards us as angry as wasps to stone us to death! And we had a narrow escape! If we get into their sight, we will be killed! There was no time for further mussings for they saw, in a short distance, their Master walking ahead to Judea all alone!
He was fully determined and optimistic because He had miles to go, promises to keep, goals to reach and a mission to accomplish. None of those disciples could prevent Him from going. But in Thomas, the bravest in the group, was the whisper of his conscience: ‘Let not your Teacher go alone…If you are afraid of accompanying Him, why joined His company?…If life is more important for you, why held the hand of this ‘Good Shepherd’ who came to offer His life for His sheep…….?
Questions came rushing but he wouldn’t wait for their answers. The need of the hour was a definite decision. And then, looking at his confused and fear-striken companions he said: “Come, let us also go along with our Teacher, so that we may die with Him” (Jn. 11:16). And without delay he walked in haste in the footprints of his Master to hold His hands. His friends too followed him.
Jesus loved us till the end, till death on a Cross. Humans normally hesitate to die. None of us wishes to quit this world empty-handed leaving behind all that we hold our own. Although we know for certain that we are essentially dust and unto it we shall return, we tend to wrestle with death as much as possible. That is why we search for means to chain up at, a safe distance, the ‘monster of death’ that keeps attacking the cage of our life in the forms of huge Tsunami-waves, earthquakes, deadly diseases and disasters of various kind.
If this is our reaction to the natural death of ours, is it not impossible to think of dying on behalf of another person? Dear friend, it is in this respect that the noble model of St. Thomas becomes inspirational to you and me. This fisher-disciple reminds us of some of the foundational aspects of authentic Christian discipleship.
Discipleship is not a part-time profession, but a life-time commitment. The former is only a means to earn wealth and comforts in life. One has always full freedom to abandon it and look for another as one likes. But, the latter is a life-long surrender (thapasya). It ia an invitation to throw away one’s selfishness and share one’s belongings with others. Total renunciation is its basic requirement.
Those who receive this divine vocation will surely have to give up many things they regard as precious. Discipleship is not a route of life that provides one with only gains and victories. It is a footpath that runs through losses and pains towards Eternal Life. Here, one cannot desert one’s Guru half way and retreat. Christ’s disciples, even as they are deprived of deserving opportunities, reservations, public acceptance and applause because they are Christians, should dare to stay with their Master in whom they had invested their trust.
Discipleship is not a picnic, but a pilgrimage. The former is a pleasure-trip, a coach-tour, on safe and smooth roads enjoying panoramic scenery. It is a journey with precautions of all sort along which each one pays attention to avoid accidents and mishaps until it ends. But, the latter is a holy trip on foot through thorns, stones and ditches. Along this journey the pilgrims are expected to shoulder their daily crosses and have empty hands and hearts full of love as their sole possession. In this pilgrimage, passing by the sacred dip-spots of the Seven Sacraments, they are to focus their minds only on the stern and brave steps of the present and not on the frailties of the past or on the anxieties of the future.
Discipleship is not mere following (walking behind) but accompanying (walking beside). The former is an easier affair. Followers needn’t have any fear at all. They are in a safer position because their foregoers will timely warn them against every possibe challenge and danger ahead. In necessity they can even easily flee back for life. But, the latter is a tougher one. It is a walk grasping the hands of the Master. Followers are servants.
But Christ’s disciples, being His friends (Jn. 15:15), are His co-pedestrians. They are to share the destiny of their Master in all seasons alike. Forces that drag them aback will be more powerful. Their tears might turn to be their drink. Struggles might outnumber joys. Yet, the inner bliss in carrying them will be incomparable. For this reason, no one will have to accompany the Lord with a gloomy face. Even when death comes ahead, they will remain with their Master with whom they are love-bound. And pure love knows no fear or doubt (1 Jn. 4:18).
Dear friend, ‘Christian’ is not just an adjective of you and me. It is, rather, our very identity and character. We are not ‘by-chance Christians’. It is our privilege and mission to accompany the Crucified Lamb. Hence, let us be proud of it and simultaneously live our lives worthy of it.
Let us be witnesses to our Master in our respective walks of life and seek the intercession of St. Thomas for grater graces to joyfully accompany the Lord till the end of our faith-journey.
– – – written by Fr. Thomas Pattathilchira, CMF