Christian Discipleship: Discernment, Decision and Following Jesus

This week's reflection is written by
V. Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS, Provincial.

We have all been called to be disciples of Christ. Our call to discipleship includes: the character of those who are called to be disciples; the need for discernment and decision in following Jesus; and the absolute importance for the disciple to spend time with Jesus himself.

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First, let’s look at the character of those who are called. Samuel is but a mere youth when the Lord calls him, a lowly apprentice to the great Eli. Yet, God calls the apprentice, not the master. As for the disciples of Jesus, there’s Peter who, though a large-hearted and good man, stumbles and bumbles quite a bit throughout the Gospels. Once, Jesus even calls him a “Satan” for trying to dissuade him from the dangers of his mission. And we all know of Peter’s cowardly triple denial at the moment when Jesus most needed a friend. And then there is Judas, that tragic man who betrays both friend and Lord for a bit of gold. In between are all the other disciples: John, another mere youth, Matthew a hated tax-collector, the hot-headed “Sons of Thunder” who rather than turn the other cheek wants to call down the wrath of God upon those who will not accept Jesus. And in the end who are standing with Jesus at his Cross? Only the young John, his mother Mary, and a few women. All the rest have cowardly fled in fear.

Why did God choose the young and inexperienced Samuel, and why did Jesus choose such an unremarkable group of Twelve? God calls the weak and the wobbly so as to remind all of us that in God’s house it is all a question of grace. In the work of salvation, God himself does all the heavy lifting. So, the fact that we may be weak or sinful, cowardly or lukewarm, is no excuse whatsoever for refusing the call to discipleship. We are just among a long line of earthen vessels that God loves and befriends, forgives and calls. If God can create a whole universe out of nothing, he can surely make worthy disciples out of each of us. In the end, nearly all of those first disciples suffered a martyr’s death and are now great saints in heaven, mighty pillars of our faith. So, there is real hope for each and every one of us. As long as we give what little we have and what little we are, God will surely make something beautiful of each of us!

The story of Samuel also teaches us the importance of discernment in hearing God’s call. God had a plan for young Samuel and it took the help of an older and wiser Eli to help Samuel discern that call. From all eternity, God has had a plan for each and every one of us as well. Being a spouse or a parent, a brother or a sister; a best friend, a teacher, a CEO or a monk, a religious or a priest: none of this ought to be just what we ourselves want but ought to include what God wants for us as well. God’s will for us takes a bit of prayer and discernment.

But once God’s will for us is known, it is up to us to freely and actively choose and to decide to do what God asks of us or to be what God calls us to be. Samuel and the Twelve did just that, and in the end every disciple must do the same, for every call to discipleship must include discernment and then decision.

But the absolutely central ingredient to Christian discipleship is suggested in the disciples’ first question to Jesus and his response to that question: “Where are you staying?” “Come, and you will see.”

Where are you staying?” On the surface, this sounds like a pretty matter of fact question. Yet, it represents the deepest longing of the human spirit to discover the ultimate meaning of things. John the Baptist rightly sends his disciples to Jesus to discover, in his very company, the answer to that most of fundamental of all questions.

Come, and you will see.” Belief in Jesus means that we can only really learn the meaning of life and Christian discipleship in the company of Jesus himself. The earliest disciples did that by simply being with Jesus, listening to his words, seeing his works, spending time with him as any friend would. This is how it must be for us as well. We can read and reflect on what Jesus does and says in Scripture. We can spend some time in prayer with him each day. We know that he is never far away. Indeed, he lives within each of us. When you leave Church every Sunday, go as living tabernacles into your homes, workplaces, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods, bringing Jesus to those with whom you share life. Speak what he would say to every person you encounter, friend or stranger. Forgive as he would forgive hurts received. Be his hands in helping those who come to you in need. Comfort those who grieve just as he would. In short, be Jesus with all those with whom you share life.

Every Christian has received the call to discipleship: to follow Jesus, to live Jesus and to be Jesus. Let’s never be discouraged because we are unworthy. Who is ever worthy of such a call anyway? After discerning God’s call, let’s decide to follow it through with both courage and grace. And let’s resolve to spend some time with Jesus every day in prayer and life. If we do that, we will make a real difference in our world, for we will make it a better, a holier place!