Tag Archives: disciples

25 November: Jesus was Praying Alone, Part II

Yesterday we were reflecting on Luke 9:18f. If you weren’t here, please scroll back and have a look the reflections so that today’s will make more sense to you.

In Luke 9: 18 and following Jesus was praying, and when he stops, he asks the disciples who the crowds think he is. We’re pondering this in light of the fact that in this question Jesus probably wants the disciples to articulate an answer – mainly for their own instruction, rather than his. Given yesterday’s reflections, I now imagine that Jesus already had a pretty good idea of the opinions that were in circulation about him, but let’s listen to what the disciples tell Jesus: ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others again, one of the ancient prophets come back to life’ (Lk 9:19). Did the disciples give an accurate report? Who knows. The disciples only tell Jesus the opinions that were favourable. Were less favourable opinions being circulated as well? Almost certainly. But, even if the disciples had perceived Jesus’ crowd-appeal correctly, crowds are notoriously fickle; maintaining popularity for any length of time is nearly impossible, as subsequent events would overwhelmingly demonstrate. This was something Jesus knew far better than the disciples did. But the disciples have answered Jesus’ question, and now he has another for them – a question which is more closely linked to his first question than I had previously realised.

‘And you, who do you say that I am?’ Peter speaks for all in his answer. “You are the Christ.” That this opinion was shared by the Twelve is borne out by the fact that not one of the Twelve contradicts Peter – and other gospel passages show that the disciples were certainly capable of breaking into an argument, even at the most solemn moments, had they disagreed with Peter. So: excellent. They have grasped Jesus’ true identity. Perhaps it was only in that very moment that this truth comes home to all of them, we don’t know. But it does come home, and Peter voices this for all. Jesus, in other gospel accounts of this episode, is moved by Peter’s courage and perception, and praises him. But more is at stake here even than Peter’s superb answer to Jesus’ question.

In other gospels, Jesus moves quickly into a prophecy of his passion – and Peter, voicing what all the disciples would feel, is horrified, and tries to talk Jesus out of the whole thing. We know how Jesus responds to Peter: he seems shaken, and very sternly calls Peter ‘Satan,’ and commands him to ‘get behind’ him. But, once again, this is about the disciples – indeed, it is about discipleship. We just heard what the Twelve think the crowd thinks of Jesus. Now, the question that is of supreme importance for them is this: are they capable of being faithful to this astonishing truth of Jesus’ divinity in the face of a public whose opinion about Jesus’ identity is favourable enough, but nowhere near as radical as their own? The disciples had sussed the un-heard-of and shocking, even frightening truth about Jesus himself – that he, a man, was the Christ of God. It is now possible to see that there is yet another question that Jesus doesn’t ask, but that hangs in the air over everyone’s head, which is this: “What would the crowds say about you if they knew what you thought of me?”

We’re not quite finished with this passage, but this seems to be a good place to stop and pray. Tomorrow we will conclude our reflection.


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24 November: Jesus was Praying Alone, I.

Part I

Welcome back to Sister Johanna for three reflections on Luke 9:18ff

Jesus was praying alone, and his disciples came to him and he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ (Luke 9:18; New Jerusalem Bible, Study Edition)

We know how this passage goes on. After Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds say he is, he asks his disciples who they think he is – and Peter comes out with the magisterial statement, “You are the Christ of God.”

There is no way of calculating the number of times in my life I’ve read this passage, but as I was reading it today, I realised that I always pass over the line about Jesus at prayer, which I have quoted here, without thinking very much about it, because the lines that come after it seem so much more important. But today something about verse eighteen of Luke’s ninth chapter was tugging at me as I read it, and so I lingered over the line, repeating it to myself. As I did so, it became apparent to me that all this time I’ve been separating Jesus’ prayer from Jesus’ questions, as though their juxtaposition in the text was a mere accident; I’ve failed to note that Jesus’ questions flow out of his prayer. This made me begin to consider his questions in a different light – more as outward expressions of Jesus’ prayer and less as requests on Jesus’ part for information from his disciples.

So I returned to line eighteen, and the image of Jesus, alone with the Father, at prayer. At first it was the sheer mystery of it that filled my mind. It is not possible to get anyone’s prayer and see what it is like. Even less is it possible to imagine what the prayer of the Son of God was like. But then I thought that perhaps I might imagine, without being guilty of presumption, some of the effects of Jesus’ prayer. We know from all the gospels that Jesus would often go off by himself to pray, so, clearly, prayer gave Jesus something that he could not receive by any other means. We can assume that when Jesus emerged from prayer, he felt that he had been deeply nourished by the Father. I think we can also assume that he would come out of his prayer with a clearer mind about what he needed to do and how he should go about doing it.

As I went on to the next lines of this passage, I began to wonder, for the first time, why Jesus even needed to ask the questions he asks in this episode? It occurred to me that Jesus could have had his questions answered through prayer itself, and in solitude – but instead his prayer seems to have directed him to involve the disciples in these questions. This can only be because Jesus felt that these questions were questions of supreme importance for them – perhaps even more so for them than for him. I thought to myself: Jesus is not enquiring about something he doesn’t know here. He is teaching.

And so, Jesus’ first question – ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ – seemed now to have a different trajectory to the one I’d always given it. It occurred to me now that this would merely be second-hand information – of what use is that to Jesus? It’s rarely accurate, as Jesus would certainly realise. Also, it seemed hard to believe that Jesus didn’t already know what the crowds thought of him. He was too perceptive not to be aware of his audiences’ general opinion of himself. But Jesus does want to know something: he wants to know how the disciples perceive the crowds’ understanding of himself. He wanted to explore, with his disciples, what the disciples thought the crowds thought of him. This was really a question about his disciples, then, and not the crowd. Yes, he was teaching them something, I thought.  

What was it?

We can pause here, and ponder these things until tomorrow, when we will resume our study.

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22 September: Walking with Jesus

Yesterday, thanks to Sister Johanna Caton OSB we saw Matthew getting up from his desk in the tax office to follow Jesus. Today Canon Anthony Charlton invites us to walk with the two disciples who were making for Emmaus on the first Easter Day. Taken from Saint Thomas’ Canterbury website, which invites us to share its reflections.


The disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. Walking away from the three years they has spent in the company of the one their believed to be the Messiah, the Christ. But he had been crucified and buried and their hope and dreams had been buried with him. No wonder they were downcast. Their belief in Jesus has been shattered. They were walking back to their old way of life. They were leaving behind the new life that they had embraced.

Jesus joined them. They didn’t recognise him. He sensed their sadness and asked them why they were sad. They responded by relating all that had happened and they shared with him their hopes and dreams. “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.” Jesus listened as they opened their hearts to him. Only when he had listened did he respond by going the through the scriptures. “Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.” These were scriptures they were familiar with. They had learnt these from their youth. Coming from Jesus they seemed to hear them anew almost as of they were hearing them for the first time. They said later: “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

Why not in your mediation and prayer tell Jesus what you are experiencing. Perhaps telling him what is making you sad and unhappy about your calling, your way of life. Share with him your disappointments and then let the Scriptures shed light on what are your concerns. Is the way I see things the only way? “Let Jesus words work on all the thoughts that occur to you today”

Lord help me to understand the sufferings and disappointments that I experience. I believe that you lead me into everything, that God the Father carries me in the palm of his hand. Help me to understand what you are telling me, what you have in mind for me? Show me your way. 

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21 September: Matthew’s call, IV.

One way, no looking back!


I feel that this lectio period is reaching its end. If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will scroll back three days to the beginning of these posts and catch up with our reflection on Matthew’s call. This post will be asking what Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call teaches.

Matthew has emerged in an entirely new light for me through this lectio experience. He didn’t have much personality for me before; now I see him as a dynamic man, capable of great insight and of quickly understanding the core truth in a situation. I see that he grasped the fact that this invitation from Jesus was not going to be offered twice. He grasped that the opportunity to associate himself with Jesus was more important than anything else. Matthew saw that to fail to respond to the invitation issued by Jesus would be to consign himself to the deepest misery. It would mean losing Jesus, letting him pass right out of his life. This, Matthew realises instantly, was unthinkable – it would be tragedy. I see that Matthew wants Jesus to lead. He starts off in his discipleship seeing Jesus’ back and he knows he must keep it in view – the metaphor perhaps for all the unknowns which are an integral part of the experience of every disciple of Jesus.

What else has happened here? I turn to my own life and look into my heart. I am struck anew by the fact that it’s important not to play with Jesus. Matthew doesn’t. Jesus’ invitation to Matthew and the way Jesus handles the entire encounter show clearly that when he calls, it is not a game. It is the privilege of a lifetime. Matthew saw this. Jesus will not tolerate shilly-shallying; he is God, and he expects a life-commitment.

As I look at my life now, I realise again that each day my discipleship will be tested. Am I really ready to drop whatever I’m doing, leave whatever Jesus asks me to leave today, and put my whole heart into following him, without looking back? I see that I cannot rest on yesterday’s good deeds (if there were any) or skate along on yesterday’s momentum. Every day I must push off afresh, keeping Jesus’ ‘back’ in view – or, in other words, accepting all the unknowns that exist in my life with him. Every day I must be like Matthew. And the alternative? The alternative is to lose Jesus, to see his back receding into the distance. He moves quickly.

I return to the thought with which I opened this reflection. Matthew was sitting down in the beginning of the story. But now? He is hurrying along the road, following Jesus. He is never pictured in the gospel as sitting down again. And I realise that discipleship is simply not a sit-down job. Not for Matthew, not for me. Oh, sure – we’re talking metaphor now, and not body language. The Lord may ask one to spend time at a desk job working for the kingdom. But on the most fundamental level, the disciple is always rising up from the inertia of the past – even if the past is only yesterday – the true disciple is always moving quickly to obey the Lord, ready to respond to the Lord’s exciting invitation, “Follow me” – today.

Thank you, Sister Johanna! It’s been good to spend these four days with you and Matthew. Thank you especially for encouraging us to listen out for our call, and to be ready to follow Jesus, today!


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19 May, Pauline Jaricot Novena VI: ‘I am sending you too’.

A further reflection on the working out of Blessed Pauline Jaricot’s vocation. To find out more about Pauline Jaricot, visit: missio.org.uk/Pauline

Every missionary disciple walks in the footsteps of Jesus. Pauline Jaricot developed the spirituality of the laity; not in founding a Religious community, but a Marian association of women at the service of the poor. Pauline invites us to value the vocation of each baptised person. God’s plan for Pauline was to follow Christ step- by-step: ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you too!’ Let us pray that we, baptised and sent, fulfill our calling as missionary disciples.

Our Father. 
Hail Mary. 
Glory be… 
Blessed Pauline Jaricot, pray for us!

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1 May: Christ at Emmaus.

Goldwyn Smith, a 19th Century Professor of History at Oxford, commented: The lines on the two disciples going to Emmaus convey pleasantly the Evangelical idea of the Divine Friend. Cowper says in one of his letters that a man who had confessed to him that though he could not subscribe to the truth of Christianity, he could never read this passage of St. Luke without being deeply affected by it, and feeling that if the stamp of divinity was impressed upon anything in the Scriptures, it was upon that passage.

It is a favourite passage for many, one we have reflected upon in Agnellus Mirror – do a search for Emmaus – and one to return to gladly. William Cowper’s work is more than pleasant, it is respectful toward the two disciples, bringing out their humanity and friendship, and shows the courtesy of the stranger who gathered up the broken thread, and opened their eyes and ears.

   It happen'd on a solemn eventide,
  Soon after He that was our surety died,
  Two bosom friends, each pensively inclined,
  The scene of all those sorrows left behind,
  Sought their own village, busied as they went
  In musings worthy of the great event:
  They spake of him they loved, of him whose life,
  Though blameless, had incurr'd perpetual strife,
  Whose deeds had left, in spite of hostile arts,
  A deep memorial graven on their hearts.
  The recollection, like a vein of ore,
  The farther traced enrich'd them still the more;
 They thought him, and they justly thought him, one
  Sent to do more than he appear'd to have done,
  To exalt a people, and to place them high
  Above all else, and wonder'd he should die.
  Ere yet they brought their journey to an ends,
  A stranger join'd them, courteous as a friend,
  And ask'd them with a kind engaging air
  What their affliction was, and begg'd a share.
  Inform'd, he gathered up the broken thread,
  And truth and wisdom gracing all he said,
  Explain'd, illustrated, and search'd so well
  The tender theme on which they chose to dwell,
  That reaching home, the night, they said is near,
  We must not now be parted, sojourn here.—
  The new acquaintance soon became a guest,
  And made so welcome at their simple feast,
  He bless'd the bread, but vanish'd at the word,
  And left them both exclaiming, 'Twas the Lord!
  Did not our hearts feel all he deign'd to say,
  Did they not burn within us by the way?" 
 William Cowper (1731–1800) 

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15 April, Good Friday: a Compassionate Presence.

Strasbourg Cathedral

Here is an extract from last year’s Good Friday homily of Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark. Every day is somebody’s Good Friday. Let us pray for the grace to respond if it falls to us to be beside them in an hour of need, like Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and John, silent beside the Cross.

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

A few years ago I read an account of medics working on the border between Cambodia and Thailand in the midst of dreadful warfare. With bombs falling uncomfortably near, two doctors, one older, the other younger, attended to wounded refugees. Their first patient was a young woman. She was barely alive, her body almost severed in two by a mortar fragment. The older doctor made a quick diagnosis: ‘I thought there was nothing to be done, he said, ‘and went to another victim. When he looked back, the other younger doctor had knelt down. He was cradling the woman’s head and caressing her hair. In the older doctor’s words, ‘He was helping her to die. He did it very naturally. There was no public, no cameras, no one looking. The bombing continued, and he did this as if he was all alone in his humanity.’ 

Certain events render us speechless. They may or may not be overly dramatic or especially tragic. But some experiences are literally beyond words. There is nothing that can be said to make any sense. There is no difference to be made by talking. The only possible response to some situations is to be present to them: a compassionate presence, a loving presence, a silent presence.

+ John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark, Good Friday 2021

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12 March: People in their Thousands: I

Welcome back, Sister Johanna! This is the first of a series of five linked reflections on the passage from Saint Luke 12. We were reminded how dangerous crowds can be by the tragedy at the African Football Cup of Nations just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile the people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And he began to speak, first of all to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – their hypocrisy…. To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk.12: 1-2,4).

Part I.

As I read this passage I imagined the crowd of thousands – so many people that they were stepping on each other – and I felt a strange fear. I felt the desperation in that crowd, a crowd that symbolises, perhaps, all of humanity from the beginning of time until now; it is made of people so hurt and needy that in this case they are quickly becoming ruthless, bumping and pushing in their hunger for Jesus. But one thing at least is clear: they know that they need to reach him, that he is somehow their salvation. But they are stepping on each other.

How scary to be part of this crowd. It is not one I’d have wanted to be positioned in the middle of, with no easy exit-route if things had taken a nasty turn. And this already-desperate situation is the one in which Jesus chooses to issue a warning about yet another cause for desperation: that the seemingly venerable authority figures of the religious establishment are, essentially, phonies. This is deliberate on Jesus’ part, like everything he does. Clearly, in Jesus’ estimation, this message couldn’t wait for a smaller, calmer audience to gather at another time. Here is Jesus utilising his ‘social platform’ to the hilt in order to disseminate his message to as many people as possible. It is that important: the Pharisees are not to be trusted.

Let’s take this slowly. In saying this kind of thing so publicly, Jesus is actually saying more than one very important thing. The first is the obvious one: he is warning this crowd of people against the Pharisees. His warning has a sub-text, too. He is saying, ‘Although the Pharisees cannot be trusted to provide a religious understanding of the pain of your existence that you seek, I can; I am that meaning. Come to me. The Pharisees know the letter of the law, but I know its heart and spirit.’ In Matthew’s gospel Jesus will say even more compellingly, ‘Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.’

Here, Jesus speaks first to his disciples, and they, in turn have told the crowd – not only the crowd present on that day, but also the crowd of the Church that has been present ever since the apostles began their ministry, fired by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

And now I turn to my own heart. How willing am I to come to Jesus? He is the meaning of my existence. He now uses the Church, in a direct line from the apostles, to disseminate his message. Do I trust that Jesus is, even now, teaching me, teaching the Church – this ‘crowd’ in their thousands – of which I am a member?

Let’s reflect on this for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we will continue.

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1 July: Power can be a danger, Even the Demons Submit II.

Photo from CD: After a bombing in Brussels.

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection from yesterday.

Yesterday, we left the seventy-two missionary disciples when they were feeling wonderful in the knowledge that they would be powerful in Jesus’ name. Jesus himself had just assured them of it (Luke 10:19). Which brings me to the next point in this reflection. It is a joy beyond all joys to work for the Lord and to be an instrument of his power and love. Jesus appreciates that the disciples are experiencing something they’ve never experienced before – and they can barely contain themselves. Perhaps they have even been slightly unbalanced by this experience. Who wouldn’t be? For, in addition to their joy, the entire experience – the journey, their success in preaching the Kingdom and in healing the sick, and, to cap all, their power over the demons – must have given this group of seventy-two men an enormous sense of power. And power can be a danger for those who wield it. No one was ever more astute than Jesus about the dangers of power. He wants the disciples to begin to understand this danger. He now has some sobering words for his missionaries.

The gospels are completely honest in recounting the instances when the disciples reveal that they are preoccupied by issues of power – their own power as a group against the Roman occupation, the apparent power of particular individuals within their group, Jesus’ power in relation to the religious establishment were just a few of the power-issues that distracted them. Jesus has repeatedly tried to lead them away from this preoccupation with power (cf. Luke 9:46-50). But now, here they go again. They have suddenly experienced a new kind of power – spiritual power. This is the most dangerous power of all. And they like it. They like it a lot.

Their words to Jesus when they arrive seem to indicate that they have seen that their spiritual power over the demons depends on their use of Jesus’ name. So that’s something. At least they have a vague notion that they are not the authors of the power they have exercised. Good, but not great, seems to be the judgement of Jesus about this. His words of warning come quickly: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you.”

Now’s the time for the newly minted missionaries to feel like the novices they are, to shuffle their feet and look down at the ground. Jesus’ words make them see that they’ve been gloating rather a lot, and feeling a bit smug and self-congratulatory – precisely because the spirits submitted to them. Jesus wants it to be very clear to them that only by his election are they themselves safe from the demonic. They must keep their attention focused not on who or what has submitted to them, but on where they themselves need to be – and who they need to submit to in order to get there. In case they weren’t sure, Jesus tells them: “Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

Their names are written in heaven – that is their reason to rejoice. They must keep their focus on heaven – because their names might not have been written there. They, of themselves, are nothing special. They are safe, they are heading for heaven, because Jesus is leading and protecting them; they are strong over Satan because of Jesus’ strength working through them. They bear a power in their hands, but it is not intrinsic to them, and without Jesus, they have no power at all. Jesus is the one to be thinking about. His love is their reason to rejoice.

They began their missionary journey taking nothing with them, at Jesus’ instructions. In this way, through the extreme vulnerability that their physical poverty would have awakened, Jesus meant to wake them up to the fact that everything good that happened to them between the beginning and the end of their journey was due to his gift to them. Luke’s gospel leaves us there, ending the account of the missionaries’ return rather abruptly, and not elaborating further on the episode. We, the readers, suddenly find ourselves alone, and left to consider how this story challenges us. Where is our focus? Are we preoccupied by power-issues? Do we keep our eyes on Jesus? Does Jesus have something to say to us?

*The Bible translation used throughout this reflection is The New Jerusalem Bible.

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30 June: Even the Demons Submit, Part I.

The mediaeval masons tried to cut the demons down to size on churches like St Nicholas at Barfrestone, Kent. They knew the stories of how Jesus confronted them and sent them packing – and so did his disciples.

Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.

Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.

We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.

But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.

Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”

And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.

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