Tag Archives: Disciples

We Wish to See Jesus

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– `Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.  John 12: 20-33.

In today’s passage from John’s Gospel, we feel the imminent approach of the Passion, as though the gravitational forces surrounding the Cross were drawing Christ to them.  Just as these Greeks (who may have been Gentiles or may have been Hellenized Jews) come seeking after Jesus, Christ announces that His ministry is coming to its fruition.  It’s a terribly strange notion of fruition, however, because Jesus teaches his disciples that while he will be “glorified”, His glorification will entail His death.  Jesus compares Himself to a grain of wheat, a self-description consistent with his earlier announcement:  “I am the bread of life.”  John 6:35.

While the world struggles to see Jesus in his glory, Jesus teaches that death isn’t the end of the story.  Placing this story in context, Jesus hinted at this teaching earlier.  We should recall that just one chapter earlier, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  We already have a sense, therefore, that Jesus’ ministry will entail a redefinition of “dying”.  This new understanding will entail the notion that surrendering our autonomy (serving Jesus rather than ourselves) and involves following Jesus even following Him through death’s door.

Jesus does not face these facts lightly, admitting that this prospect troubles His soul.  I suspect it shook Him to his core, just as it should trouble us.  Despite these terrible struggles, Jesus knows that the reason for the Incarnation lies within this hour, within these events. God then announces His intention to use these horrific events for the glory of His name and kingdom.  As is so often the case in John’s Gospel, however, the people misunderstand and think it’s just the thunder, or maybe an angel.

Once again, John plays upon the double-meaning of the notion of Jesus being “lifted up”. This time, the phrase  carries with it the double meaning of Jesus lifted up on the cross, and his ascension into heaven.  Again, this passage recalls Moses lifting up the bronze serpents in the wilderness, healing those who look upon it.  Jesus says that when He is lifted up from the earth, He will draw all people to Himself.

Now, we begin to get a sense of the remarkable gravitational pull of Jesus and the cross, drawing all of mankind into their vortex.  In that gravitational maelstrom, we will encounter the unbearable weight of the cross, which even Christ could not carry alone.  Within that vortex, we find love, hatred, beauty and pain, humanity, and God.

In the 26th verse of this passage, Jesus tells his followers, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am there will be my servant also.”  This passage echoes with the name God offers Moses as the name of the divine.  Ex. 3:14  (“I Am Who I Am”).  Following Jesus requires presence, but offers the gift of the presence of the Father.

If, like those first century Greeks, we “wish to see Jesus”, this is no time to cover our eyes.  It’s happening now; “the hour has come”.  Jesus views these events as God’s judgment on the world, which will bring about the expulsion of our Ancient Enemy.  (In the Greek, the word for that judgment is krisis, from which we derive our word “crisis”.)  Jesus came for this time, and those who follow Him must go through this Passion with Christ.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

The Cost We Will Pay

Observe, admire and obey may be given as the novice’s watchwords.  The ideal must not remain an ideal, but has to be realized at whatever the cost.  The cost is heroism.

–St. John Cassian

I found this observation from St. John Cassian in Celtic Daily Prayer.  It spoke to me for a number of reasons.  Today, I will leave for Louisiana for a meeting of my house within the Anglican Order of Preachers (the Dominicans).  Most folks consider Cassian the father of monasticism in the West.  So, in a broad sense, as my brothers and sisters gather, we meet in imitation of Abba Cassian.

In this little passage, St. Cassian gives advice to those who are novices in a religious order.  In most religious orders today, one begins the process of discerning whether one has a vocation as a postulant.  After some period of study, reflection, prayer and a goodly amount of questioning, one can request to become a novice.  Novices have been admitted to a specific religious order as “beginners” and will generally remain novices for at least a year or two.

Cassian suggests that novices are called to: (1) observe; (2) admire; and (3) obey. In other words, they are learning how to follow and imitate their brothers and sisters.  In an even broader sense, all monastics and all Christians are called into the imitation of our rabbi, Jesus Christ.  While we all seek to imitate our Lord, we should not be surprised that others along the same path may arrive at a different place.  As Thomas a Kempis (wrote The Imitation of Christ) observed, “A book has but one voice, but it does not instruct everyone alike.”

Cassian warns that our ideals must not remain ideals; we must bring them to fruition.  It will not suffice to say we follow Christ; we must become Christ-like (a process our Orthodox brothers and sisters call theosis).  As I’ve observed before, the Christian life is not a spectator sport.

Cassian also warns us that this effort carries a significant price:  “The cost is heroism.”  Jesus calls us to set aside our insecurities, our self-doubts, and even our inadequacies.  We must be prepared to face epic failure as we stumble, struggle and stutter our way into our new life in Christ.  Jesus called those who are willing to pay that price his friends; He called them disciples.

Pax Christi,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Cleaning (God’s) House

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  John 2: 13-22.

Few paths offer a quicker road to trouble than criticizing someone’s religion or their politics.  Almost certainly, Jesus knew that about us, and travelling down that road got Him killed.  In today’s reading from the Lectionary, Jesus criticized both the religion and the politics of the Judean authorities of that time.

The Temple stood as a monument to something sacred and holy:  it represented the intersection of heaven and earth, the dwelling place of the Living God, and a visible symbol of both national identity and God’s covenant with the Jewish people.  Most people would perceive an attack on the Temple  as an attack on the faith (and the nation) itself.  These events took place as the city of Jerusalem swelled with the Passover crowds.

All four Gospels record this event, one of the few occasions on which Jesus became deeply angry.  In the other three Gospels, Jesus calls the Temple a “den of thieves.”  John places this event near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, as opposed to the synoptic Gospels which place it much later.

Jesus apparently became enraged upon observing the barriers thrown up by the priestly authorities, barriers which stood between God and His people.  For example, because Roman coins were forbidden in the Temple, they had to be exchanged (at a substantial discount) for the currency of the Temple.

The Temple authorities also collaborated with the Roman occupation, and Jesus overturned that table as well.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus  insults the Temple culture, calling it a “marketplace.”  Trading on access to the Holy was then, and still remains, a special kind of blasphemy.  Jesus became enraged when He saw the Sacred being traded like a commodity.  I think we underestimate the Gospel if we see this as a historical criticism of “the Jews” back then.

Our churches still seek to collaborate with political power.  We still fall under the thrall of a purity system that separates the righteous from the sinners, the holy from the impure and the whole from those who are broken.  We might well examine the ways in which we still place obstacles in the paths of those who come looking for God.  We might wonder whether our churches, like the Temple in Jesus’ time, have become comfortable monuments to the status quo.  We might ask whether our houses of worship have become mutual admiration societies rather than instruments of change.  Perhaps we should share the Savior’s sense of outrage when we encounter it.

The Judean authorities asked Jesus to provide them with a sign (seimeion), in other words, to show them the authority by which Jesus issues this prophetic condemnation.  Asked for an explanation, Jesus replies with an enigma.  Jesus responds that upon the destruction of “this temple”, he will raise it up in three days.  As is so often the case in John’s Gospel, Jesus is misunderstood.  (We find the classic example of this in Jesus’ trial as Pilate questions Him.  John 18, 19.)  Jesus speaks of the sanctuary of His body; the Judeans think He’s talking about the architecture.

Ultimately, Jesus will displace the Temple as the intersection of heaven and earth.  As He told the Samaritan woman only two chapters later, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”  John 4:21. Further, Jesus’ death would signal the final sacrifice, rendering the Temple culture obsolete. Jesus thus appropriates the functions of the Temple for Himself.  The life of Christ would come to operate as the new meeting place for those seeking El Shaddai (God Almighty).

Like the Temple culture of Jesus’ time, many of us would still prefer a God we could do business with (see here).  Jesus offers us something radically different:  He offers Himself.  He becomes the locus point (the alpha and the omega) where human history intersects with the Father. He has been raised as the new edifice where we can encounter the holy.

As we come to this new Temple, Jesus doesn’t expect us to bring a dove or to engage in some special ritual.  He asks us to take the whip into our own hands, and chase away everything that separates us from God. He asks us to come and offer ourselves, our whole lives, without reservation. He asks us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Fishing for Souls

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea– for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. Mark 1:14-20.

Mark’s Gospel offers us some unique insights into the Christian life for the third week of Epiphany. After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus announces the imminence of the kingdom of God, requiring repentance and calling for hope (belief “in the good news”). Mark sets the story on the sea of Galilee, known for sudden storms. The men who made eked out their living fishing on these waters worked very hard, were heavily taxed, and struggled with many of the same day-to-day issues we know so well. I’ve known men like this, and they are not easily moved.

So, Jesus meets two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, and James and John (who Jesus later nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder”). He calls to them to follow him, and each of these men leave behind their work, their families and their homes to follow Jesus. As we discussed in the call of Samuel, God has a funny sense of timing, and his message often interrupts us when we’re trying to do something else. Perhaps these men were just ready to hear a message of hope and forgiveness. Perhaps they were ready to hear the message that evil doesn’t win and that there’s another way to live.

I think, however, that this arresting story of the origins of the Church sheds a good deal of light on the kind of man Jesus must have been. He must have been a remarkably compelling figure, this itinerant preacher walking along the Galilee. Mark’s Gospel reports that the decision to follow Jesus occurred “immediately”, suggesting that their hopes for the promised good news overcame their fears and their attachments. The passage also suggests these men felt a sense of urgency, that they couldn’t put off their walk with God any longer or take care of a few little things beforehand. May it be so with us, too.

The Gospel teaches us something important about our path to discipleship. Very few of us will start or travel down this path of conversion alone. Conversion, whether we’re turning away from or turning toward something, is a difficult process, and most of us will need to take a friend, a brother or a sister along for the journey. Jesus called these disciples into a vocation of hope and forgiveness and a relationship with the living God. These two sets of brothers felt impelled to leave behind their ordinary, workaday lives and follow Jesus. May it be so with us, too.

Finally, Scripture teaches us an important lesson about being a disciple. Then and now, following Christ will require that you’re going to have to leave some things behind. In the case of these men, it was their boats, their nets, their jobs and their families. For some of us, it may be habits, outlooks, destructive relationships, or the fears that bind us to the present moment. The disciples found a way to leave those things behind. May it be so with us, too.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

What Are You Looking For?

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’  John 1:35-39.

In the Daily Office today, we read the Gospel of John, which again offers us a fine reading for the season of Epiphany.  Once again, we encounter John the Baptist, this time on the day after Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus passes by, John again announces that Jesus is the Lamb of God.  

Rather than stepping into the spotlight, John  illuminates Jesus.  That phrase, “the Lamb of God”, would have carried immediate connotations for his Jewish audience.  The Passover operated as the pivot point for the Jewish people’s understanding of their salvation, and the Passover meal was lamb.  John thus bears witness that Jesus offers their deliverance. 

Andrew and another of John’s disciples hear this startling announcement and begin following Jesus.  The next passage provides us with insight into the kind of man Jesus was.  John doesn’t record Jesus announcing his ministry in a dramatic proclamation.  Jesus doesn’t attract his disciples with miracles or a sermon or a sales pitch. There’s nothing ecstatic or charismatic in his response. A friend of mine has recently convinced me that all forms of ministry (teaching, preaching, liturgy, outreach, and evangelism) are, at their core, pastoral

Jesus’ first question to the disciples reveals his pastoral nature:  “What are you seeking?  What do you think is missing?”  The world brims with people who are looking for something:  God, happiness, wealth, enlightenment or something new and exciting.  Each of us who claims to follow Christ, however, should regularly ask ourselves that very question:  “What are you looking for?”  If our response is something other than Jesus, we might want to reorient our pursuits.  Jesus’ question may call to mind God’s first question to mankind, “Where are you?”  Gen. 3:9. 

The disciples then ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  That translation leaves a bit to be desired.  Their question wasn’t so much “Where are you spending the night?”  Rather, they wanted to know where Jesus lived, where he dwelt, where he “abided.”  We would do well to think here of another passage in John’s Gospel:  “Abide in me as I abide in you.”  John 15:4.  The disciples aren’t asking so much about geography as they are beginning to probe his teaching, his “yoke”, and his idea of relationships.  Jesus’ remarkable response, “Come and see”, will shape the lives of his disciples forever. 

In the Gospel of John, the word “see” always involves something more than one might understand initially.  The Greek word orapo connotes more than visual observation.  It suggests spiritual vision, insight or understanding.  Jesus thus invites these two disciples to follow him, understand and find what they are looking for.  He’s extending the same invitation to you, and to me.

Pax,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2012 James R. Dennis

 

Taking Nothing

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money — not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere. Luke 9: 1-6.

If we’re willing to listen, I believe this passage of Scripture can teach us a good deal about how we should approach Advent.  For most of us, accustomed to succeeding through diligent preparation, Jesus’ suggestion that the disciples “take nothing” seems a little odd. We wonder why Jesus did not want the disciples to bring along a few supplies, a little extra cash or some snacks.

First, I think the answer lies in understanding the context.  In this passage, for the first time, Jesus inaugurates the notion of what it means to be an apostle.  (That word comes to us from the Greek apóstolos, which translates as “one who is sent out”.)  Thus, following Christ will require that they leave their rabbi behind and take their own journey.  It will require the same of us. No longer would the disciples simply stand around and watch Jesus’ miracles and ministry. Jesus taught them, as he teaches us, that the Christian life was not a spectator sport.

So, why would Jesus send his disciples, his friends, out without any tools, equipment or provisions?  I don’t think Jesus wanted the disciples to be unprepared.  I think rather that Jesus was telling them, “None of that stuff is what you need.  In fact, it will only get in your way.”  The disciples needed to trust that God would give them everything they needed to do the work he wanted them to do.  When they learned to use God’s resources, rather than their own, they were capable of far more than they imagined.

That’s not a bad notion for us to carry forward into our journey through the season of Advent.  We will need to leave a lot of stuff behind.  Mostly, we’ll need to leave behind the illusion of self-reliance that we’ve come to accept.  We need to learn to trust God and trust that God will give us the tools for His work.  We may also need to leave behind our notion of who we are, and what we’re capable of doing.  The real question we should ask during Advent inquires where God is sending us, and what He can accomplish through our lives.

Have a good and holy Advent,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis