Meaning Then and Today, Being a True Disciple

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Last updated: November 20, 2019

The word ‘Disciple’ translates into English as ‘follower’. Jesus chose twelve of his closest disciples to become his ‘apostles’ whose job was to learn from, to imitate and to continue Christ’s work after his death.Jesus chose twelve men to be his disciples to represent the twelve Tribes of Israel. These men were to become leaders of the Church the new Tribes of Israel. We know that twelve is significant because after Judas died Matthias became the twelfth apostle.

The Apostles:These people had to be prepared to give up everything, including their job and family: “As soon as Jesus saw them, He called them; they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat … and followed Jesus” (1:20).

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Mark records this at the calling of James and John.We know a lot about some of the first Apostles. Simon and his brother, Andrew, were both fishermen. Jesus renamed Simon as Peter, which is translated as “rock” symbolising his strength of faith to hold the Church together. Peter was the spokesman of the Apostles, one of the three that Jesus regularly took with Him. After the crucifixion and resurrection, Peter became the first Pope and the main source of information for Mark’s Gospel.James and John, sons of Zebedee, were the other two main Apostles upon whom Jesus relied.

Matthew was a tax collector and was unclean by Jewish Law – merely speaking to Matthew automatically made Jesus unclean also. By eating with him, Jesus showed him great respect and when Matthew was called, he immediately followed Jesus showing his willingness to give up his affluent lifestyle. Jesus renamed him “Levi” to symbolise his new life.Although Jesus only had twelve Apostles, he had many disciples. Anyone who followed or believed in Jesus was called a disciple.

This included women and Gentiles as well as Jewish men. Some, like Blind Bartimaeus started following Jesus after being healed “At once he was able to see and he followed Jesus on the road” (10:52).The Role of The ApostlesThe Apostles had many duties and tasks. Jesus had called them to be his companions during his Ministry and spent most of his time with them. He sent them out on a mission as training for the work to come after his crucifixion when he would no longer be there. They had to go out in pairs and preach the Gospel wherever they went, healing the sick and driving out demons. “So they went out and preached.

They drove out many demons and rubbed olive oil on many sick and healed them” (6:12,13)During Jesus’ life, the Apostles had to imitate Him in every way and to learn from Him how to preach and heal in preparation for their own Ministries. After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and gave them the Commission to go out into the World and preach the good news about God. “Preach the Gospel to the whole human race” (16:15).They were given power to do many things, such as heal the sick and speak in foreign languages. “They will place their hands on sick people, who will get well” (16:18) They also had to baptise people into the Christian Faith”Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved” (16:15).

Costs of DiscipleshipJesus’ expectations of the disciples were very high. He expected them to sacrifice huge amounts and He made very large demands of them. Being a disciple of Jesus was therefore very hard and too much for many people.Even Peter was not wholly successful; “Before the cock crows twice, you will say three times that you do not know me” (14:30). This was Jesus’ prophesy and shows that even Peter lied to escape death because he was frightened.There are also occasions when the Apostles misunderstood Jesus.

At the Transfiguration, Peter didn’t know why Elijah and Moses had appeared to them. “We’ll make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”(9:5) Peter did not understand that these Old Testament Prophets appeared to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.

Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus by turning Him over to the Authorities. “I tell you that one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me” (14:18). Jesus knew of the betrayal at this, the Last Supper.A person who became a disciple of Jesus had to have complete faith in Jesus and rely on God. At the calming of the storm Jesus asked “Why are you frightened? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). Jesus was scolding his disciples because they did not believe.On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of people’s faith in both Jesus and God. Blind Bartimaeus showed faith and his eyesight returned.

“Your faith has made you well” (10:52).Jesus’ ministry was not exclusive to Jews. The Gentile woman’s belief meant her daughter was exorcised of the demon. “You will find that the demon has gone out of your daughter!” (7:29). Jesus came to us to help everyone who has faith in God.Each of the disciples had to be prepared to make huge sacrifices to follow Jesus. These varied for each person.

Some had to leave the security of their jobs and family; “they left their father Zebedee in the boat with hired hands and followed Jesus.” (1:20). This was at the calling of James and John and is important because at that time, a person’s job and family would be the only security he had. Most people knew how to do just one job and they risked everything just to follow The Lord.Other people were required to give up their wealth to follow Jesus. When a rich man asked how he could receive eternal life, Jesus told him that he had to keep the Ten Commandments.

When the man replied that he had done this Jesus said, “Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor” (10:21). For the rich man this price was too high and he rejected it. To get eternal life you have to do more than just want and believe.Another cost was that disciples had to accept their sufferings, “he must forget self, carry his cross and follow me” (8:34).

Jesus is saying that each disciple had to put himself last and become a servant; this would bring them closer to God. To “carry his cross” was a reference by Jesus to the persecutions of Christians that were to follow soon after His death.For some other Christians to “carry his cross” did not necessarily mean death. It could mean that all they had to do was to keep the Ten Commandments and for others it could be preaching the Gospel. Today very few people are killed because of their faith but it does still happen.

Christians today still have to try and imitate Jesus in every way. The reward is eternal life but for those who do not follow the teachings of Christ there will be punishment in the afterlife.The disciples also had to put up with being rebuked by their own people. Many Jews did not believe in Jesus and treated believers as outcasts. Remember that Jesus was a Jew and so were all his followers.

Being cast out from the Tribes was a considerable punishment.Jesus made many other predictions about the persecutions of Christians. When he was talking about being Christians in this life he said, “and persecutions as well.” (10:30) Here, He warned the Apostles that sacrifices might include death.

Rewards of DiscipleshipJesus talked about the rewards of being a disciple. “He will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields” (10:30). Jesus is saying that all those who follow him will gain a much larger family in the Christian Faith than that left behind.Jesus also talked about how Christians would be rewarded in heaven. “In the age to come, he will receive eternal life” (10:30). This is really the only reward, but one that no one else could give – eternal life.The Meaning of Discipleship TodayDiscipleship today can be a range of different things. Today’s disciples are still people who lead a Christian life by imitating Jesus.

All of them have a vocation in the Christian Community, be it a religious or lay vocation.Those called to a religious vocation are the Priests, Nuns and other Church representatives who have dedicated themselves to Jesus. To prove their commitment, they take the three vows – obedience, celibacy and poverty. Jesus said to his Disciples when he sent them out on the Mission “Don’t take anything with you on your journey except a stick – no bread, no beggars bag, no money in your pockets” (6:8).

The role of the disciple today is the same as it was two thousand years ago. Disciples should spread the Gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons and be the Servant. What has changed is how we do these things and our interpretation (few of us believe in demons). Today, as in the early days of Christianity, we spread the Gospel by actions as well as words. Whilst most of us cannot heal the sick, we can help them in their distress.

We can try and heal the wounds of our Society. There are many Charities and Organisations dedicated to caring for the poor, sick and infirm.

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