Discipleship and Leadership
by Fr. George Mathew
First Sunday After Assumption
This coming Sunday in our lectionary is referred to as the First Sunday After Assumption. The reading is taken from St. Luke 6:39-45 and deals directly with the themes of discipleship and leadership.
I remember reading a news story about three blind counselors (two in their 20s and one in his 30s) who took eight blind children on a swim outing at a lake in Michigan for about four hours. That evening, one of seven year olds drowned. She and the other students were attending a camp that helps children learn life skills from adult role models who, like them, are blind. When they left the water about 7:15 p.m., they counted the children and discovered that one of the children was missing. Had a sighted person been with the group, the outcome may have been very different.
In this week’s gospel portion, we read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount that was given to the newly appointed twelve, the other disciples, and the surrounding multitude. Jesus was giving them advice and wisdom for their upcoming ministries – very important advice. For if this advice is not heeded, they would not be taken seriously.
There are three points I would like to expand upon: leadership, judgment, and true discipleship.
Jesus begins in this passage asking about how a blind man can lead another blind person. Just in the story above, the danger should be obvious. Each and every day, new “holy men” emerge through our television sets and radios that know our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and how to overcome them. We simply need to listen and follow them. In fact, tele-evangelism has reached amazing heights. Many desperately seek the support and positive message that these people so desperately crave. To where are the blind being led?
Just as in chemistry, we should be putting forth a litmus test whenever new leaders that “have all the answers” or “have the keys to Kingdom of Heaven” emerge. Is their message contrary to the Word of God, our faith, or our traditions? Does their message sound too good to be true? Are they living humble, lowly lives? Do they practice what they preach? This is what our Lord meant when He said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” A true disciple of Jesus will live a life like Jesus – a life dedicated to God, full of love and compassion. In essence, we are called to be “little Christ’s.”
We need to beware on two fronts. First, are the ones leading us true to their calling and leading us towards the Kingdom of Heaven? Can we see the person of Jesus Christ in them? Do they challenge us to be like Jesus in thought, word, and deed? Secondly, we are also leaders - in our families, parishes, workplace, and society. Are we leading in a way that befits glory and honor to God? Are the ones following us becoming closer to God through our leadership?
Once we have some form of success in our lives, we begin to put ourselves on a pedestal from which we can view others below. We seem to know all the answers and how things are supposed to be done, so when those around us make mistakes, we can be the first to point out the error. It is basic human nature. But, as Christians, we have to be careful about judging others.
In verses 41-42, our Lord cautions about trying to be physicians when we haven’t even attended medical school. No one is perfect. St. Paul tells us in Romans “all have sinned and come short of God’s glory.” But, it is excessive pride within us that makes us look and sound better than our neighbor. Our Lord instructs us here to examine ourselves before we examine others. Our Lord told those who wanted to stone the sinful woman, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” No one did that day. We are not righteous because of our own merits and act, but rather because of the grace and mercy that is showered upon us by God Almighty.
A true leader will seek to help a fallen brother or sister to regain their footing in life. Jesus’ words to the disciples reminds them (and us) that a true leader is one who does not find fault or tries to blame, but rather loves and forgives and does not judge. How are we in this regard? Are we over judgmental and accusing? Or, are we loving and accepting of our neighbor. The love and joy we experience from being “in Christ” is sufficient to eradicate pride in our lives. Are we willing to lower ourselves and place those around us in a higher state, though?
Finally, we see in verses 43-45 that a true disciple is recognized as a disciple of the master. If one preaches Jesus Christ but does not live like Jesus Christ, what kind of disciple can he be? Our Lord said that, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we too have to be true to our calling. We cannot simply be “Sunday Christians,” but rather “everyday Christians.” We have to be true and committed to the Lord that has Himself for us. He suffered pain, agony, and ridicule for us. All He asks is to be committed disciples.
We think it is all too easy for us to live in the world and to live “in Christ”. Again, our pride and ego lead us to believe that we can play the game. But, our All-Knowing God knows it is not possible. That is why we are told, “we cannot server two masters.” Either we will serve God or we will serve Satan. Our dedication should be as Joshua’s “Choose you this day whom you will server, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” We have to make a conscious choice. That is what true discipleship is – focusing and dedicating ourselves to being little Christ’s’ in this world.
Let us consecrate and dedicate ourselves to being true, committed Christians in this world. Rather than being blinded to the truth, we should wholeheartedly embrace it and be effective witness for our Lord. Christianity is not a way of living, but a way of life. There is a great cost associated with being a follower of Christ. As St. Paul describes in Ephesians 6, we are in a spiritual warfare. But, we have the Lord on our side and will receive the rewards and blessings of above if we are true to our Lord and Master. May we obey and heed the Holy Spirit within us to become bright lights for our Lord so that others may give glory to the Father in Heaven. May God bless us all.
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