Why Be A Disciple?
Reflections and Actions for the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; James 1:17–18, 21–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23
The problem with the Pharisees was that they concentrated on keeping rules instead of on learning. Their focus was on morality instead of on discipleship.
We make the same mistake.
To focus on morality is to presume that we already know everything we have to do, and that now we just have to do it. To presume this is not to give much credit to Jesus as Teacher! It is to assume that all Jesus has to teach us can be learned in a few years of religious instruction – that it can all be reduced to a set of simple rules. It is to presume that we already have the mind and heart of Christ: that we think, desire and judge authentically like him in all the complex situations of our lives.
When Jesus blames the Pharisees for leaving aside God's commandments to focus instead on human tradition, he is criticizing a mistake we still make – a mistake it is most natural to make. Teachers always tend to go to the source themselves, interpret it, simplify it, then teach their interpretation to their students. Once the teacher has reduced some great principle to a few cut – and – dried rules of conduct, the students will probably never learn more than these.
The genius of a good teacher is to reduce complexity to simplicity. But this can also be the teacher's greatest sin especially when what the teacher is making simple is the infinite truth of God!
Our teachers did this to us. They may not have had any other choice when we were children: Can children deal with great general principles that require deep thought and insightful application to changing circumstances? I flunked math in college because I did what I was taught to do in high school: I "did my homework." It was too late when my old high school teacher explained to me that what I really should have done was work enough math problems to really understand what the professor was teaching. I did only what I was told to do. But I needed more. That is why I flunked.
How many children have been taught, "If you study hard in school, you will be a success in life" – only to learn later that being a success has very little to do with earning money, and that a good education does not even guarantee you will be able to do that? But we keep things simple for children.
We teach children that to be pure means to avoid certain particular actions that are impure. But we do not teach them what real purity of heart is or how to cultivate it.
An unavoidable example we must face in our day is the commandment, "You shall not kill." We teach children very simply that it is allowed to execute criminals and to kill enemies in war. We do not teach them that this is not to be found anywhere in the teaching of Jesus and cannot be based on anything Jesus said. Our traditional teaching about capital punishment and war is simply an interpretation – a human tradition – which developed over the ages and which the Church has never condemned. Like slavery and racial segregation, the killing of enemies is something which at first glance is obviously contrary to the gospel, but which teachers in the Church have interpreted as justifiable under certain circumstances. Is it justifiable? The Church has not given a final answer to that. This leaves each of us with the choice of continuing to accept the human tradition we were taught as children or of looking deeply at the teaching of Jesus ourselves in order to come to our own position as adults. This does not mean we will reject anything the Church teaches as the law of Jesus; just that we look at what the Church does not teach as his law – but just as human interpretation – and reconsider that.
To look at the teaching of Jesus ourselves as it is found in the Gospel, and not as it has been given to us pre – chewed and pre-digested by our teachers, is what it means to become disciples. Until we begin to do this, we are still "infants" in the faith (see 1 Corinthians 3:1).
Reflecting on This Week's Gospels
Pray daily: Lord, give me the grace to believe in you as the Teacher of life. Give me desire to live life to the full, and not to lose out on any of the experience you offer me. Teach me to take you seriously and to learn from you.
Monday: Luke 4:16 – 30. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, / because he has anointed me / to bring good news to the poor. /He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives/ and recovery of sight to the blind, / to let the oppressed go free." Can these great promises be fulfilled by people who just focus on keeping rules? What more do you do?
Tuesday: Luke 4:31 – 37. They were all amazed and said to one another, "What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!" What is the greatest power in your words? Brilliance? Authority? Or is it love?
Wednesday: Luke 4:38 – 44. Jesus said to them, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose." What do you look for most from Jesus: healing or teaching? A higher standard of living or higher standards in living?
Thursday: Luke 5:1 – 11. After Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Are you willing to "put out into deep water" with Jesus for the same purpose? What would it mean for you to do this?
Friday: Luke 5:33 – 39. "[N]ew wine must be put into fresh wineskins." What basic change has to take place in our every goal in life before we can really hear Christ's words?
Saturday: Luke 6:1 – 5. Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath." Is Jesus truly Lord of everything in your life? How does this show in your words and actions?
Living This Week's Gospels
As Christian: Write down, "I believe that Jesus is the Way. Therefore..."; "I believe that Jesus is the Truth. Therefore..."; "I believe that Jesus is the Life. Therefore...". Then complete the sentences.
As Disciple: Each day this week take one saying of Jesus seriously and reflect on it. Use the daily readings above if you like.
As Prophet: Picture to yourself where the telephone book is in your house, then where the Bible is. If what you see tells you that you do not rely on the Bible as much as the telephone book, change something.
As Priest: Each morning take to work (or school, or shopping, or wherever you meet people) something from the Scriptures to share with others, just as in some offices people bring snacks. Do not be obnoxious in the way you share it; just look for acceptable ways.
As King: Ask what needs to be changed in your home physically or otherwise – in order to give Christ more room there.