Jon Hatter is a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. We invited him to join us for our Student Leaders Retreat. Here are his reflections from the weekend.
This weekend I had the opportunity to join a group of people from Impact Campus Ministries of South Bend on their student leader retreat. It was a great time and I began several relationships that I am excited to continue as our time in South Bend carries on. More than that, I got the chance to spend some time thinking about the meaning of Discipleship. And, since I have some time this evening to do it, I thought I would share some of the thoughts I had with you.
It is often the case that we opt for the simplest possible definition of “disciple,” – a follower of Christ. Now, there’s nothing wrong with simplicity and I think that this definition has its merits, but as I was reading some of the scriptures that we looked at this weekend, I was struck by something. There are plenty of people in the New Testament who literally, physically follow Christ who are not disciples. They are just “the crowd,” the folks who swarm around Jesus because what’s he’s doing is new, exciting, and novel. They’re the rich young ruler’s of the Bible, who approach Jesus because of what he can do for them, and run away when he asks them to do something for him.
This realization begs the questions, “Then what is a disciple? What more is required?” The story of the rich young ruler actually answers part of that, and I may come back to that, but I’d rather start with the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John. This story, told in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 (also in Luke 5 in a slightly different way) tells us that these fisherman “forsake” their nets and their boats (and even their own father, in the case of James and John) and follow Christ. It is this “forsaking” that sets them apart from the rich young ruler and, on that same note, from the others who simply “follow” Jesus to see what he’ll do next. It is this sacrificial commitment that marks the true disciples of Christ in the gospel accounts.
So, being a disciple is not simply about following Jesus. It is about following Jesus ALONE, that is to say, following Jesus to the exclusion of all others. You cannot pursue Jesus and pursue your career. You cannot pursue Jesus and pursue your own happiness. You cannot, as Jesus tells us elsewhere, serve two masters. To simply know of Jesus, to know the scriptures, to know the correct God-Bible-Jesus answers to the questions of life, is not sufficient. True discipleship is marked by a love of God that encompasses the whole of your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Coming back to the rich young ruler. It seems that he was a disciple in the way we like to think about discipleship in Church today. It appears that he knew the commandments of God. He was confident enough that he had kept these commandments. He even acknowledges Jesus as the “Good Teacher.” In a modern congregation, he might be a Sunday School teacher or a deacon. He might be an usher, a custodial volunteer, or even a Pastor. He seems to know the Bible answers (at least the palatable ones), but, as Jesus says, he lacks one thing – sacrifice.
There comes a time, it seems, in the life of every disciple when he or she has to make a choice between what American’s like to call “the Pursuit of Happiness” (probably better called “the Pursuit of Self”) and the pursuit of Christ. Those who chose self are missing the point. Those who chose Christ, with all the blessings and troubles that decision brings with it, are disciples.