Opening the Word: Horizon of discipleship

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Christians are at risk of falling into a severe trap. Namely, we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really a matter of being a decent, upright person rather than receiving the gift of salvation from God.

Expectations say that a godly person does a nice job of taking care of his or her family, does a bit of charity for others when appropriate and goes to church each Sunday.

When the horizon of discipleship is this low, it’s easy to sit as judge over others. We can look at those with more difficult family situations, telling them, “Well, you really could do a bit better.” We look to the homeless man or woman on the street and urge them, “Time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” We have little mercy for those who have committed particularly egregious offenses.

After all, we’ve managed well enough without murdering a neighbor or committing adultery against our spouse. Be better, we think to ourselves. How hard can it be?

Paul offers a radically different horizon for discipleship. Christianity isn’t about being a decent person but rather the transformation of all that is corruptible into incorruptibility. It is eternal life, the victory over sin and death made possible through the cross of Christ.

Christians are not those who have achieved a modicum of self-control. We are those who wait to sing among the Communion of Saints, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

In Christ, the sting of death has been destroyed on the cross. Baptized into Christ, we are now sons and daughters of the living God. It is Christ alone who lives in us.

And therefore, the horizon of discipleship for the Christian is total conformity to the divine love of Jesus Christ.

Because this is the horizon of discipleship, Jesus cautions his disciples against thinking that they have already arrived: “‘Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye'” (Lk 6:42).

Here, Jesus is not saying, “Since we’re all sinners, it’s OK. Don’t judge.”

Rather, he is acknowledging that the neighbor has sinned. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree doesn’t.

Jesus’ warning is directed against the disciple who believes that he or she is superior to the neighbor because of a supposed righteousness that does not exist.

Not only does our deluded disciple believe that he or she is without sin, but this disciple can’t even see how large his or her sin is. Jesus is saying something like: “You were concerned about your neighbor’s splinter, but check out the two-by-four in your own eye!”

The true disciple of Jesus Christ recognizes that the horizon is the infinite love of God. The more that one advances in the Christian life, the more that one will recognize how incomplete we are.

This is not a matter of self-hatred. Instead, the disciple knows that he or she is called to a love that is beyond what any human person is capable of.

Discipleship is not reducible to a series of best practices or being a decent person. For the horizon of discipleship is the transformation of the cosmos into a space where God will be all in all.

Until then, we are to look in a mirror. For likely, there’s something in our eye. Something that is keeping us from seeing the horizon.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

 

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