easter The Sánchez Archives

Year B

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

The Process of Discipling

ACTS 3:13-15, 17-19
1 JOHN 2:1-5
LUKE 24:35-48

During the time of his earthly ministry, Jesus was devoted to the process of “discipling” those who believed in him. As the itinerant band made their way with him through the villages and cities of ancient Judah, they met a variety of people with equally varied needs, questions, criticisms, and requests. Each person afforded Jesus a teachable moment in which to impart yet a further lesson in discipleship. As Leonard Doohan (Acts of Apostles, Building Faith Communities, Resource Publications, Inc., San Jose, CA: 1994) explained, the process of discipling usually included four common elements: First, every genuine call to follow Jesus originated in God and was not the result of human reference or choice. Second, the would-be-disciples were challenged to be converted to and transformed by the person of Jesus; intrinsic to this conversion was an awareness of one’s need of forgiveness and of the power of God. Third, the call required a total commitment that would willingly renounce anything that leads away from the Lord and a firm dedication toward the integration of one’s faith and manner of living. Finally every authentic call to discipleship must necessarily result in a sense of mission and ministry in the believer.

In the weeks after Easter, the fruits of Jesus’ efforts at discipling his own are manifested in the activities of those first Christian missionaries. Witnesses to all Jesus did and said in Judah and Jerusalem (Acts 10:39), transformed by their experience of his resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus began the process of discipling all nations, a process still in progress, with much work yet to be done.

In today’s gospel, Luke recounts the exhuberance of the disciples who had encountered Jesus on their way to Emmaus. As Doohan noted, the journey to Emmaus represented an outline of Jesus’ ministerial actitity: he walked with those whose shattered hopes needed healing, listened to their story, instructed them, led them to the discovery of the truth and excited them with the realization that salvation had indeed come to pass through his saving death.

By searching the scriptures with them and in the breaking of the bread, the disciples also learned how the risen Jesus was to remain with the church. Fired by their experience of him, the disciples could not keep silent; the good news had to be proclaimed. Quickly, the two made their way back to Jerusalem, eager to share their experience of Jesus. The church’s mission had begun.

Similarly enthused, Peter, in the first reading (Acts) is featured as attempting to disciple his Jewish brothers and sisters who had not yet come to know and accept Jesus. His witness to Jesus and his message of repentance, conversion and forgiveness echoed throughout Jerusalem. With the help of Paul, Barnabas, Philip, Stephen, Timothy, etc., this message continued to resound throughout Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. As a result the small “mustard seed” that Jesus had planted began to grow steadily and surely into a great shrub wherein “birds” of every sort could make their nest.

No doubt, as the church grew, the early disciples were reminded of Jesus’ parable; like the mustard seed, they had had a small and seeemingly insignificant beginning but like the resultant shrub, theirs had become a community without parameters, ready to embrace and welcome home all of humankind.

As the community grew, and as times and circumstances changed and evolved, it became necessary to rethink and reinterpret their message and ministry. Care had to be taken to preserve the deposit of the faith and the rich heritage of Judaeo-Christian tradition without becoming staid and stale on the one hand or skewed and diluted on the other. In order to maintain an authentic discipleship, readers of 1 John (second reading) are reminded to maintain their intimate relationship with God (another way of saying to have knowledge of God) by keeping the commandments and by relying on the redemptive power of Jesus’ death in times of sin.

The process of discipling the world was not, nor is it now, simply a means of adding new members to the community. Rather, discipling is to become a way of life such that the words and works of every believer speak a gospel of saving truth that all the world is hungry to hear and to believe.

ACTS 3:13-15, 17-19

That the disciples had resumed Jesus’ mission after his death and resurrection is clearly in evidence all through the Acts of the Apostles. In this excerpted reading, Peter is represented as appealing to the Jews to recognize that they were partially implicated in the events that led to Jesus’ demise. Just prior to this appeal, Peter had cured a crippled beggar who had asked for alms. After having made the man whole, Peter, like Jesus before him, complemented the healing with words that were intended to impart a wholeness and a holiness to all who would listen.

First, Peter identified Jesus using a series of titles familiar to his Jewish brothers and sisters. Invoking the patriarchs, Peter called Jesus the glorified Servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Servant, or pais in Greek, can also be translated as child or, as pertains to Jesus, Son. Peter knew that this title would conjure up in the minds of his listeners a series of prophecies. For example, the fourth of the Isaian servant songs stated: “my servant (child) shall be raised high and greatly exalted” (or glorified, as in Acts 3:13). In another of these songs, Isaiah portrays God as calling the servant (or child), “my chosen one, with whom I am well pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit” (Isaiah 42:1).

Peter also referred to Jesus as the Holy and Just One (v. 14), a title usually reserved for God as in Psalm 18:41: “again and again they tempted God and provoked the Holy One of Israel.” Finally, Peter identified Jesus as the Author of life, i.e. the originator, cause, and source of life; by juxtaposing this title with the actions of those who contributed to Jesus’ death, Peter emphasized the dastardliness of the deed. But Peter, who was acting as a spokesperson for Lucan theology, had not come to condemn his listeners. He had come to offer yet another challenge to conversion of heart and communion with God.

Notice the shift in emphasis as the speech continues. Peter and the other disciples came to share their testimony that the Servant had indeed been glorified (v. 13). God raised Jesus from the dead and the harsh reality of his suffering was shown to be an intrinsic aspect of God’s inscrutable plan all along (v. 18). Kindly, gently, Peter acknowledged that there had been mitigating circumstances; those among the Jews who rejected Jesus had acted out of ignorance, as did their leaders. By softening the confrontation, Peter offered his listeners the opportunity to examine their motivations and actions and make whatever adjustments were necessary.

In the verses following today’s reading (vs. 21-23), Peter would recall God’s promise that a prophet like Moses would be raised up from among the people (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). That prophet had come in the person and mission of Jesus but some had not accepted him. Now, the prophet’s disciples had come to extend the invitation yet again.

As today’s reading concludes, the choice rests squarely in the hearts of Peter’s listeners, those of the first Christian century as well as those about to embark on the twnty-first century of the church’s mission. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection compels us to decide yet again if we will reform our lives and turn to God so that our sins will be wiped away. These are the choices and decisions that must be made daily so that the process of discipling may continue.

1 JOHN 2:1-5

Although the author of 1 John never identifies himself, his correspondence does reveal something of his attitude and motivation. His tender form of address, “My little ones”, underscores a caring, pastoral love for his readers. He was concerned that the process of their discipling would progress steadily and surely. His appeal was made for their benefit, i.e. to keep them from sin. His knowledge of the human experience was realistic; he knew that his charges were prone to sin and he reminded them of the recourse they had in the person of Jesus.

Calling verses one and two the most succinct description of the work of Christ in all of the Christian scriptures, William Barclay (The Letters of John and Jude, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh: 1976) implored readers of 1 John to study two great words included in this passage so as to better understand and enter into the benefits of Christ. In verse one, the early Christian author calls Christ our parakletos; in verse two, our hilasmos. The Roman lectionary departs from the NRSV, NAB and JB to translate these terms as intercessor and offering rather than the more powerful advocate and sacrifice.

Parakletos , a word which also appeared in the gospel tradition preserved by the Johannine community, comes from the verb parakalein, which means: to comfort (as in Genesis 37:55); to call someone to one’s side as a helper or counsellor; to speak on another’s behalf as would a defense attorney; to lend one’s presence to a friend (as in Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). In his capacity as paraclete or advocate, Jesus is in the presence of God but ever mindful of his disciples. Risen and glorified, Jesus comforts his followers, is constant with his help and counsel, speaks on behalf of sinners and lends his abiding presence to all.

The other word which so well defines the saving work of Jesus is hilasmos; derived from the verb hilaskesthai, this term means: to placate or pacify someone who has been injured or offended; to forgive and restore a lost relationship; and to remove the taint of guilt and sin. In Jesus’ capacity as hilasmos, he has restored all of humankind to a right relationship with God (what Paul described as justification) by removing our guilt and effecting the forgiveness of sins. Notice the ancient author’s emphasis on the universal scope of Jesus’ saving sacrifice, “not for our sins only, but for those of the whole world.”

Then, in keeping with the tradition of the Johannine gospel, the author of 1 John reprised the motif of knowing God. Those among his readers who ascribed to the influence of Greek thought and literature would have interpreted knowledge of God either as an intellectual pursuit (as in Greek philosophy) or as an emotional experience (as in the mystery cults). But, biblically, knowledge of God is the result of God’s self-revelation. Revealed as goodness, holiness and love, God extends to humankind an invitation to a relationship. To accept the invitation is to know God; to know God is to know love; to love is to obey. This is the only “logic” acceptable for those who have begun the lifelong process of discipling.

LUKE 24:35-48

At their 1977 National Conference the American Bishops approved the text of Sharing the Light of Faith, the National Catechetical Directory for the Catholics of the U.S. Responding to the second Vaticn Council’s mandate for the renewal of catechetics, the directory describes catechesis as those “efforts which help individuals and communities acquire and deepen Christian faith and identity through initiation rites, instruction and formation of conscience.” Authentic catechesis: includes both the message presented, and the way in which it is presented; draws upon the church’s rich and diverse heritages (biblical, patristic, historical, liturgical, theological, missiological, and catechetical); makes use of sound contemporary developments in the sacred and human sciences, while keeping alert to and aware of the ever evolving “signs of the times.”

As the days and weeks after Jesus’ resurrection stretched into months and years, it was the early Christian community’s efforts at catechesis which ensured its survival and growth. Strengthened by their shared faith in the risen Jesus, nourished in the breaking of the bread, enlightened by their searching of the scriptures, those first believers were eager to impart the good news of salvation to others. As Luke points out in today’s gospel, this process of catechizing or discipling was begun in Jerusalem and was to extend to all nations.

One aspect of the good news, viz., the preaching of penance for the remission of sins (v. 47) was, no doubt, less difficult to understand and accept than the prospect of a Messiah who would suffer, die and rise from the dead (v. 46). Indeed, as Paul’s letters and the speeches of Peter and Paul (as presented in the Acts of the Apostles) reveal, this issue continued to be one with which the early church would grapple for some time.

In his recounting of the appearances of the risen Jesus, Luke displays special sensitivity for the concerns of his readers. Luke presents Jesus as inviting those who remained fearfully incredulous about his resurrection to look and touch him (v. 39). For the benefit of the panicky and disturbed, Luke portrays a real Jesus, eating, talking with and teaching his own (vs. 42-45). Aware of the circulating rumor that Jesus had not actually died on the cross but was taken down and hidden by his friends, Luke was careful to show that the risen Jesus could now suddenly and wondrously appear in their midst (v. 36). Transformed and glorified, yet one with the Jesus they had known during his earthly ministry, the risen Lord commissioned his disciples to continue the mission he had begun.

Each time this gospel is proclaimed amid the gathered assembly, Jesus’ mandate to his disciples is renewed. Through the vital processes of catechizing and discipling, the church’s mission of preaching the good news continues to impact upon the nations. As Pope Paul VI once explained, “the church is more than ever alive, yet it seems good to consider that everything still remains to be done; the work begins today and never comes to an end” (Paths of the Church, 1964, # 117).

[NOTE TO USERS: This archive is available for use without charge, but it remains the property of the author and under copyright with Celebrations Publications. Users are permitted to print individual Sunday commentaries for pastoral use, but are prohibited from downloading or copying files or printing any portion of this for sale or distribution.]

e-mail the Celebration editor at patmarrin@aol.com

Copyright © 2000 Celebration Publications

Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
Celebration Publications
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64111