Tag Archives: disciples
This picture hangs in the Generalate – the headquarters – of the Missionaries of Africa in Rome. It was painted in Ethiopia. We see, at left, the boy trustingly bringing the loaves and fishes to Jesus, who receives them with open arms and a look of encouragement, eye-to-eye. To the right, a crowd of people sitting on the grass, with two of the disciples offering food to them; a few of the 5,000. The two people about to be fed look dubious, wondering what exactly is happening; most of the others are watching those being fed, but one person’s eyes are on Jesus. In front are six of the baskets of left-overs.
Ethiopia is a country that has known famine more than once in my lifetime, and its share of oppression and authoritarian rule. The question then is, ‘Why should the people trust Jesus to feed them freely and without strings?’ ‘Let’s see what happens’, I imagine them saying. ‘Can we be sure he’s genuine?’
Jesus depended on the disciples to bring his gifts to the people. Today he depends on us. Are we dependable? Are we transparent enough for people to trust us? The Church has to do her work, Christ’s work, and we cannot leave it to the identifiable ‘professional’ members, clergy, religious if we want to get that work done.
May we take and eat. May we take strength from the Eucharist to meet our sisters’ and brothers’ needs, and to rebuild Christ’s church. After all, it was built up by those disciples who did not understand what was happening, even as they played their part in it. Let’s not worry, ‘what is this among so many?’
Those who are preparing the pilgrimage keep telling ourselves: it’s all coming together!
There was, when I wrote this,still a month before the pilgrims put foot to footpath which was just as well. Catering, comfort breaks, car rides for the weary, climbing up the Downs, covering the route step by step; all this preparation allows the real purpose of the pilgrimage to be fulfilled. And in real life, today is the day we make that first step!
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
We are a community: part of the closer walk with Jesus is walking with each other. We know that Jesus and his disciples did a lot of walking around Palestine, and sometimes the disciples’ conversation was far from edifying. Jesus had to rebuke Mrs Zebedee when she wanted him to give James and John top posts in his new government, and to remind the disciples – who had been arguing on the road about who was the greatest – that the greatest of all must be the servant of all.
No wonder he was glad to play with the children at the end of the day!
There will be many opportunities for each of us to serve our fellow walkers during our four days on the road. This time of preparation has been itself a time of service.
We hope to say more about the pilgrimage itself in the days to come.
The Crest of a Wave monument marks the start of the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury and the Channel Swim to France. Let’s hope for blue skies as we walk!
With our Lenten season we have set aside our long-running series from Traherne, the Little Flowers of Francis, and from Brother Austin. Let’s remedy that last one! There’s a challenge at the end: ‘I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?’
We cannot contrast Church and World. They are not mutually exclusive. The Church is supposed to be the community that makes God’s promises already present. When we celebrate the sacraments this is a pledge to what we have committed ourselves as community. There is no work blueprint, we are called to be creative through the possibilities everyday life presents. The Church cannot hand-out a programme to us telling us exactly what to do, how to do it and where. The Bible has no such blueprint. We learn more about the future when we respond to what we already know and are presenting solutions accordingly.
The early Church, seen through Paul’s writing, took slavery for granted as a feature of society – while insisting that the slave-owner respect their human dignity. Centuries later we began to realise that we must abolish slavery itself, because slavery as such is opposed to human dignity. We are also coming to realise that what we often call works of charity can be more crushing than poverty itself, that we can eliminate poverty simply by providing jobs and incomes for all. In the same way war was seen as inevitable, and not only killing but torture was therefore justified. With the formation of the UN we are starting to glimpse that war is not inevitable – Paul VI said to the UN with powerful conviction no more war, war never again.
The truth is that the “signs of the times” are those offering the church ever new opportunities to go out and meet others. Individuals may well set out believing they are going to teach, but they will end up learning, as did Paul. The church is given endless opportunities to rediscover itself in ever new light, but they do not happen every day. At certain moments of privilege, the Spirit summons the church to risk: “During the night a vision came to Paul: a Macedonian stood there appealing to him: Cross over to Macedonia and help us”. Acts.16.9.
The “signs of the times” are the external evidence of this call to Discipleship of Christ. Reasoned observation and rational planning have a place. Reason is able to perceive certain things that suggest there are changes requiring further and new steps to be taken. Different moments of time have their own signs. Not everyone sees them. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because their wisdom in this regard was deficient: “It is a wicked and Godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah” – Mt.12.39. There are insensitive people in every age, unable [unwilling] to see the call for something new. To them mission is no more than simply repeating what has already been achieved. This is the fear principle, prompted by the fact that I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?
Reading the Word and the World, Zakopane, Poland.
There were a few more people in the boat that morning than we can see here: Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples; seven of them altogether. I can see how they’d have wanted to get Jerusalem out of their hair, and in any case, the message was to get themselves back to Galilee. And once there, it made sense to go fishing, just as it made sense to the children in yesterday’s picture to go fishing. They preferred the river to the lough, and could charm little trout onto a bent pin dangling from a hazel rod, putting us to admiring shame, but I digress – a little.
We, after all, were amateurs. Peter was a professional, whose livelihood depended on a good catch. Had he lost his touch? He’d lost his brash self-confidence …
The stranger on the shore could see the shoal through the mist, but Peter the professional could bring the fish in.
The story in John 21 is familiar enough: as on Easter morning, John gets the picture before Peter, but it’s Peter who jumps in and staggers ashore; Peter who is challenged three times, three challenges that allow him to accept forgiveness for three denials; Peter who is commissioned three times. And Peter leaves the lorry behind – or at least the aspirations to a better life that Joe’s lorry stands for in yesterday’s story. Peter’s vocation now was not to be a fisherman but a fisher of men, a feeder of the five, ten, hundred thousand sheep and more, even down to us today.
There’s good in the heart of the likes of Joe’s dad, working hard, denying himself to provide for his family with a lorry he could earn more money from. No wonder Joe was proud of him! And then some of us are called to leave our father’s house and spread the love of the risen Lord. Come to think of it, that’s you and me as well. We should all be ready to share the love, even with a simple smile to a stranger whenever we leave the house (and perhaps at home as well; but that can be a real challenge!)
As she was going out to choir practice one evening in February, Mrs T said, ‘While I’m out you can play any music you like.’ Temptation: I can’t usually get away with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, for example. Mrs T says that’s fine for the Cathedral, but not for the kitchen or living room. But I was baking and did not want to be changing discs with floury hands, so opted for Through the Night on BBC Sounds.
Brahms was giving me music while I worked when I stopped and listened and paused the music. ‘Our’ blackbird – the one we had last year, with the white chevron on his head – was singing in a neighbour’s fir tree. I left the door open and enjoyed his repertoire until another blackbird’s alarm call silenced him.
I was reminded of my distracted thought at Mass. The image of starlings murmurating, flying in ever changing formation, merged into ‘O filii et filiae’ of Eastertime. Here are the words. As for musical fireworks, I found the recordings below – no need to choose between the blackbird and the choir, enjoy them both! And Happy Easter: Christ is risen, Alleluia!
1. O filii et filiae,
Rex caelestis, Rex gloriae, morte surrexit hodie, alleluia.
2. Et mane prima sabbati,
3. Et Maria Magdalene,
4. In albis sedens Angelus,
5. Et Joannes Apostolus
6. Discipu lis adstantibus,
7. Ut intellexit Didymus,
8. Vide, Thoma, vide latus,
9. Quando Thomas Christi latus,
10. Beati qui non viderunt,
11. In hoc festo sanctissimo
12. De quibus nos humillimas
|1. O sons and daughters of the King, Whom heavenly hosts in glory sing, Today the grave has lost its sting! Alleluia!
2. That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay. Alleluia!
3. And Mary Magdalene,
4. An angel clad in white they see,
5. And the Apostle John
6. That night the apostles met in fear;
7. When Thomas first the tidings heard
8. “My pierced side, O Thomas, see,
9. No longer Thomas then denied;
10. How blest are they who have not seen
11. On this most holy day of days
12. For which we humbly
RSPB recording of blackbird’s song
Choir of Notre Dame de Paris O filii et filiae
Picture from SJC
Over the coming fortnight our posts will follow the Stations of the Cross from the point of view of Peter. You are invited to sit with him in prison in Rome under Nero’s persecution of the Christian church. He has time to reflect on his life with Jesus, and especially on the events of those few nights and days at the end of his Lord’s earthly life.
When someone is hurt, those around feel it too. All the more if they have let their loved one down, betrayed them, in big things or in small. Jesus suffers and dies with his brothers and sisters every day – near at hand and in lands far away. Do we walk away – like the disciples on the way to Emmaus? Do we harden our hearts, as Malchus and his companions must have done, to carry on arresting Jesus after he’d cured that severed ear?
Do we run off and weep as Peter did? Despair, as Judas did?
Do we let Jesus seek us out and help us back onto our feet, as Peter did?
These stations link the Via Dolorosa to other events in the lives of Jesus and Peter. If we could see the whole picture we would know that the life and death of Jesus are one story: as Rowan Williams said, he lived a lifelong Passion. We are his body and our lives make sense in his.
As we walk with Peter, yards behind Jesus, almost out of sight, let us pray that we may see more clearly our own sufferings and our own betrayals alongside our joys. May we see more clearly how our sisters and brothers are betrayed and abandoned by us. may we then be ready to let Jesus come and find us, put us back on our feet, and lead us into his Kingdom of service.
For each station there are Scripture references to the Way of the Cross and to parallel events in the lives of Peter and Jesus.
These Stations were followed in Saint Thomas’s Church, Canterbury in 2005.
Winchester Cathedral, MMB.
Then they said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).
Jesus has vanished, but at last the disciples see. They recognize Jesus. And they are able, consciously now, to lay claim to the strange and wonderful joy they felt as Jesus walked with them on the road and explained the scriptures to them.
But now they realise that what Jesus had told them on the road was a preparation for something else. His words, spoken during their journey, were themselves like the journey and not like the full arrival. The disciples did not really “arrive” until they reached Emmaus.
Then why did Jesus at first pretend that he wanted to go further than Emmaus? Perhaps he did this for the disciples’ sake, because he wanted to draw something further out of them. This seeming pretence on Jesus’ part gives the two disciples the opportunity to realise how much they want this stranger to stay with them; even though they do not realise fully who he is, they know that he is important to them, and so they then make a conscious choice and ask him pressingly to remain with them.
But, when would full recognition of the Risen Jesus come? And why hadn’t it come to them yet? Caravaggio’s painting helps us here, helps us to see that the recognition of the Risen Lord comes most fully within the context of the meal. In the Last Supper Jesus commanded the Twelve ‘do this in memory of me.’ He would now, in this “first supper” of his risen life, show them that he meant it. He would show them that this memorial of him was not an empty memory, a mere trick of the imagination, but a real encounter with him. Earlier in the day, Jesus had shown them that Scripture was about him. Now Jesus would show them that the meal is not ‘about’ something, it is something – or rather, Someone: it is Him.
The disciples’ recognition of Jesus and Jesus’ physical disappearance are nearly simultaneous. This is, in a way, a difficult truth. It is always a bit painful to me to think that the two disciples were so close to being able to throw their arms around Jesus once more, if only they had been quick enough! But, always the teacher, Jesus has something else, something more important to show them. When he disappears from their sight at the meal, this disappearance of Jesus is not like the disappearance of Jesus in death. This disappearance does not cause grief, it heals grief. The disciples begin to grasp now that Jesus’ reality remains in the meal. The disciples know him in the breaking of the bread. And, most importantly, they now realise that he has overcome death, and as such has assumed a new form. This form is the form in which we, too, must recognise and follow him.
The adventure of Emmaus happens only three days after Jesus’ death, remember. The disciples will need more time to express in words what they suddenly grasped here at Emmaus on an essential level. We need time, too. But there is so much to learn from this. Here I am, a latter day disciple, with all the advantages of understanding that result from access to two thousand years of Christian teaching. Yet, I can feel as raw and untutored as these two disciples were. And maybe that is the way things should be. It enables me to use their experience as a model and to take comfort and encouragement from their story.
The two disciples aren’t finished yet. They have a few more things to say to Jesus:
…[T]his is not all: two whole days have now gone by since it all happened; and some of the women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they could not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing (Luke. 24:21-24)..
Cleopas and his friend do not seem to be able to remember anything that Jesus had prophesied about himself during his lifetime. Maybe grief and shock had made them forget everything. Maybe Jesus’ prophecies had been so horrifying to the disciples at the time that they simply “blanked” them. But Jesus cannot be faulted for having failed to warn his disciples. He had, on numerous occasions, told them plainly that he would be crucified, and would die and be buried, and then, after three days, would rise from the dead. Neither of the disciples seemed able to recall this now. But Jesus, like the superb healer he is, listens intently in silence while they vent their feelings of confusion and disappointment.
At last, they pause. They have finished their tale. Maybe they are feeling a bit empty now, but surely they know they have been heard – you can always feel it when someone is listening with his whole heart. As a result, they themselves are perhaps better able now to listen than they have been all day. And Jesus does not fail to make use of this opportunity. He is bold and forthright:
‘You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Luke. 24:25-27).
We are not told what the disciples did while Jesus spoke to them. Presumably, they continued to walk along as he talked. They seem to have been reduced at last to silence. What was this experience like for them? I imagine that they must have gone through a swift succession of feelings, beginning perhaps with dismay over being called foolish and slow. But no doubt they moved quickly to a state of some amazement at the stranger’s penetration into the situation they had described to him, and from there into a state of wonder, joy and even to a feeling of hope that they could not understand immediately. Here at last was someone who could make profound sense of everything that had happened. Here was someone who was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives and making them whole again.
Happily, this is an experience that I can say I know about also, even as I know of the distress and bewilderment that these two disciples had felt. Jesus never abandons those who love him and seek him sincerely, even if we seek him wrongheadedly. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps this endears us to him.
In my experience of discipleship, enlightenment does come. Eventually. Or, at least, partial enlightenment comes. And, by the time it comes, I am usually so happy to have it that I will accept it thankfully in any form. But, as is the case in this story, full enlightenment – the recognition of the Jesus himself in a new form – usually comes to me later, when reflecting on my experience through prayer. The disciples here are enlightened enough to be loath to part with this wonderful stranger, but that seems to be all they know. They don’t see yet that he is not a stranger.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognise Jesus. But, as always, Jesus does not seem to be at a loss – I doubt he was surprised in the least. He knew who he was dealing with, knew what they needed. He therefore draws them out to begin with. He asks them what they had been talking about: ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along? They stopped, their faces downcast’ (Luke. 24:17). How poignant this is for me. The One who knows all things, delicately asks these two dull-eyed, dreary men to tell him what they had been discussing. Surely, Jesus knows that in asking that question, he is asking not only for an account of recent events; he is also saying covertly, Tell me what is making you so downcast. He is giving them another opportunity to hash everything through. But this time, it will be different. Cleopas and the other disciple do tell Jesus all about their experience. But they are not merely talking to each other now, pooling their bewilderment and sorrow. They are talking to the Risen Lord.
This, perhaps, is the first prayer to the Risen Jesus that any of the disciples had made. The two here don’t know it at the time, but they are praying, telling Jesus all about it, placing their hurts and disappointments before him – and not, incidentally, without a little dig: “Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.”
Yes, haven’t there been such times in my life? Haven’t I often said something similar to the Lord – and I do not even have the excuse of not recognising him. Haven’t I said something like, “What are you about, Lord? You don’t seem to see what is going on!” I can just hear the incredulity in Cleopas’s voice, the tones of bitterness:
You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ He asked, ‘What things?’ They answered, ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself a prophet powerful in actions and speech before God and the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.
There it is, the monumental wrongheadedness: ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.’ Whatever the disciples had managed to learn from Jesus during his earthly life, all the gospels bring out that there was one thing they never seemed to grasp: that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, and his power would never be exercised after the manner of earthly rulers and politicians. On the contrary, his kingdom was within, and the revolution he would bring about would change us as individuals on the level of our hearts. These interior changes would draw us into a community of believers, united by faith and hope in Jesus, and in love of him. In this community each person would strive to be the servant of the others. Power games or displays of domination would have no place whatever in his kingdom.
Why didn’t they get that? The same reason I don’t get it, I suppose. Oh, I might not be so silly as to think that Jesus will snap his heavenly fingers and change world-scale politics. But, what about the petty politics I have experienced in my own little world? Haven’t I fumed about them? Don’t I find myself secretly hoping that Jesus will ‘fix’ all that? And when he doesn’t, don’t I struggle with dismay and anger? We are slow learners.