Followers or Disciples?
We are entering Holy Week and the most sacred time of our Catholic Faith. During these days, we recall and attempt to relive the experiences of Jesus during those fateful days 2000 years ago. They are fateful for us not in a bad way but in a wonderful way, as through the sufferings and death of Jesus, the gates of paradise were opened to us. By his sacrifice, we have been saved from the ultimate consequences and pains of sin and death.
There are many supposed followers of Jesus in the world. The number is around 2.4 billion people. That amounts to approximately 31% of the world’s population. One would think that would have a lot of influence on how nations, societies, governments and cultures work. One would think. This past year has been a test of faith for many. With the pandemic, shut downs, fear of the virus and consternation with dealing with COVID, it has been a particularly challenging year for many of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. The entire last year has been an extended year-long Passion Week for many Christians. As we enter into this Holy Week, it is important to remember at this time last year, we were denied and not allowed to come to Mass for Holy Week and Easter!
George Barna, a Protestant pollster, cleverly distinguishes between followers and disciples by using the analogy of major league baseball. When we follow a team, if they win that’s great. We are happy and pleased, but then after the game we go on about our everyday lives. If the team loses, well, that is disappointing. There will be other games on other days, but we go about our business and return to our everyday lives. That’s a follower. We may, to one degree or another, keep track of the team, periodically attend a game, watch the team on TV or even have a conversation about the players or their recent performances. We follow them, but our lives are not absorbed or ruled by baseball. We can distinguish between followers who are stalwart fans and those who are fair- weather fans. The fair-weather fans are those who only follow and cheer when the team is winning and it is easy. There are a lot fans and followers of Jesus. It is important to remember as we enter into Holy Week that Jesus never asked anyone to be a fan or merely a follower. Rather, Jesus calls us to discipleship and commissions us to “go and make disciples,” not fans. A disciple by definition is something more than a mere follower. A disciple is one who is radically affixed to someone. A disciple’s life revolves around the master. Jesus is not the only one out there to have disciples. We have all seen folks who have changed their entire routines, wardrobes, habits and everything about themselves in dedication and devotion to different personalities. Some folks are disciples of politics, sports, technology, cars, money, careers or entertainment personalities. They are far more than just followers or fans. They are disciples.
As Jesus entered into Jerusalem, he had many followers. The triumphal entry was filled with symbolic meaning that turned the city upside down. They waved their hands and lifted up palm branches, they cheered and all seemed to be caught up in the excitement. The city and the crowds all seemed to be caught up in the fever of the moment. But as the week wore on, the crowds proved themselves to be not merely followers, but fickle followers. The cheers turned into jeers, the waving hands and palm branches turned into fists of anger, and the shouts of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ turned into ‘Crucify Him!’ That’s the problem with followers: after the events of the week, when it became challenging to be faithful to Jesus, most of the people simply went back to their everyday lives. Some were disappointed, others confused, but they returned to the lives and routines from whence they came.
The disciples on the other hand had nowhere to go. They had left family and friends, homes and jobs to not just follow Jesus, but to be his disciples. Their lives revolved around him. His triumph was their triumph and his defeat was now their disaster. But Jesus didn’t ask for mere followers, he asked for disciples. Among Jesus’ disciples, Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, others fell asleep when he needed them to stay awake and still others fled. It is easy to be a follower because you can easily get up and go back to your everyday life. Discipleship costs and it isn’t cheap. Of course, we know that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end of the story. The defeat of the Calvary turned into the victory of the resurrection and changed the world. The question before us after a year of COVID remains the question that we had to face before COVID. It is the same question the crowds had to face in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, “Are we willing to be changed or do we want to just get back to our everyday lives and routines?” Do we want to be followers or disciples?
In pace Christi,