Our Sacred Stories: Disciple Formation – Now what?
June – T’is the season. Thousands of graduates and students seek part-time, full-time work and careers. What do I want to do now and how do I craft my application? I have spent a long time in education, formation and training, now what do I do with it? Being a disciple of Jesus is much like this.
Jesus gathered a motley crew of followers around him. The twelve that we hear of in the Gospel, were no shining lights. They were not rabbis or teachers or experts in the law, but people such as fishermen, tax collectors, ordinary women and men from small local communities. They were not especially pious, nor did they have a lot of knowledge of the Jewish Law of Moses. Those who became his disciples were simply curious, wanting to know more about him.
The followers of Jesus began their connection by a simple encounter with the person of Jesus. As they watched and listened, they became friends. Spending time listening and watching, they became more intrigued, growing closer to him.
Matthew’s Gospel describes the manner in which the relationship between Jesus and his disciples grew. There was a basic message that was the foundation of all that Jesus said and did. Matthew relates it early in his telling of the story: “Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’” (Matt.4:17). Everything else, all he said and did was the announcing of Gospel, Good News, in word and action.
The disciples of Jesus had encountered someone who was marked by the compassion of God. The central section of Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus teaching his disciples what the kingdom looks. Chapters 5-7 of Matthew presents the Sermon on the Mount. It reveals Jesus going up on a hillside to describe the qualities that express the closeness of the kingdom among them. Those who take on the qualities of the Kingdom, Jesus compares to the builder “who built his house on rock” (Matt. 7:24-25)
The disciples did not receive all this solely for themselves. In fact, it was intended to be a message with a mission. The healing and reconciliation that Jesus brought in action was an expression of compassion. His mission was for the wounded, the broken and the lost of all humanity. God’s dream was life and love, peace and justice for all humanity and intended for the whole of creation. As the poetic creation account in Genesis expressed it: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen.1:31).
Having instructed and formed his followers as disciples, Jesus called them to take the message on, as a mission. They were formed in order that they might be what the master was for them. The compassion that he revealed to all was to be their mission. “’Proclaim the good news, the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons (Matt.10:7-8).
In a world much marked by division, violence and injustice, the message and the mission of the community of Christians is one of peace and justice, healing and reconciliation. The pastoral mission of the church is one marked by the compassion shown by Jesus. Its mission is one of openness and welcome to all.
A decade ago, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel that set the mandate for his papacy. It was a pastoral mandate in keeping with the compassion Jesus expressed and to which he called all his disciples. “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice…. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy….” (Pope Francis. The Joy of the Gospel 24, 2013)