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April 29 2018 - Not All Christians are Disciples but All Disciples are Christians

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Scripture Readings

There is a story my second-grade teacher told us in religion class that I strangely still remember. One day, Michelangelo walking through a garden in Florence, saw a block of marble in a corner protruding from the earth. It was half covered by grass and mud. He stopped suddenly as if he had seen someone. He exclaimed: "An angel is imprisoned in that marble; I must set him free." Armed with a chisel, he began to work on that block until the figure of a beautiful angel emerged. The teacher continued, “Each of us is an angel in the making. God is the artist. The chisel is the Word of God. God uses his word to bring out the best in us.” Later when I got older, I verified the truth of Michelangelo’s story. It turns out, that my teacher was correct. The angel is now in the Basilica of St Dominic in Bologna, Italy.  

What Michelangelo said of that block of marble, I would like to say about each one of us, “There is a disciple trapped in each of us!” I would like to use the Christ’s words in today’s gospel to further reflect on disciples and discipleship.  

1. “That You Might Bear Much Fruit and Become My Disciples!” As the Easter season decidedly progresses towards Pentecost there are two recognizable movements we are made aware of through our scripture readings. The first movement in the post-resurrection church is the visible change in the maturity of the apostles and other disciples. From being a group of frightened, timid, distressed, hopeless and closed group Christ transformed them into a bold, fearless, purposeful, and missionary church. Similarly, Christ wishes to transform us. What does Christ want to transform us into?  Perhaps, the answer is found in the very last sentence of today’s gospel. Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” As Christians, our life project should be to allow Christ to transform us into genuine, hardcore, radical disciples. The greatest tragedy at the end of our lives would be that we return to God untouched and untransformed by Christ into the image of Christ. The greatest tragedy would be that at the end of our lives we have professed Christ without becoming his disciples. 

2.  “Remain in Me as I Remain in You!” In the early post-resurrection church, there was a second movement - a movement from Christ’s physical presence to his indwelling presence. For four Sundays after Easter we heard stories of the physical appearance of Jesus to his disciples. Now as we move to the fifth Sunday after Easter, the emphasis changes to the in-dwelling presence of Christ. Hence, Jesus’ words, “Remain in me, as I remain in you!” In the early Church, Jesus remained in the disciples in three ways: through his words, through the Holy Spirit, and in the breaking of the bread. The Word, the Sprit, and the Bread – like Michelangelo’s chisels, these are the tools that allows Christ to transform us into his disciples. Christ’s words today are inviting us to examine our relationship with Jesus in the Scriptures, through the Spirit and the Eucharist. Hopefully we have a deep relationship with the Gospel. Hopefully we are aware of the Holy Spirit promptings. Hopefully, we do we take the time and make the effort to discern these promptings. Hopefully, we find our very life in the Breaking of the bread. 

3. "Without Me You Can Do Nothing." There are Christians and there are Disciples. I ended my first point by saying, “The greatest tragedy would be that at the end of our lives we have professed Christ without becoming his disciples.” There are Christians and there are disciples. Not all Christians are disciples but all disciples are Christians. How do we separate and disciple from a Christian? For me, the answer lies in a quote from my favorite saint – Archbishop Oscar Romero. I do not remember that exact quote but he said something very close to this – “A Christian must love what Christ loved in the gospel and reject what Christ rejected in the gospel.” Discipleship is about becoming in today’s world an image of the Christ of the gospels. I hope we are not mere Christians. I hope we are on the way to being radical disciples.  

As we celebrate this Eucharist we realize that all the three ways Christ is present to us is now present to us. The Word of God has just been proclaimed. Very soon the Holy Spirit will transform he bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. There is a disciple is each one of us. Let us Christ to transform us into disciples. 

-       Fr. Satish Joseph