The Epiphany Season:
Following the Star of Jesus
Follow, believe, be quiet, speak, listen…
Those are some of the words that Jesus used all through his early ministry and that we are going to explore during the next few Sundays. What was Jesus trying to say? And what those worlds would mean for us today?
Some time ago I was watching a YouTube movie about a Japanese swordsmith. In the movie, we can hear the master blacksmith sharing that he had been in the craft during the last 20 years – The first ten as an apprentice!
And even after so many years in the trade, he still believes that he has not fully mastered the craft!
In the Japanese tradition, apprentices are not taught in the sense of having a class or having an instructor teaching the apprentice what and how to do. Apprentices learn by observing and imitating – but just not the nice stuff!
In fact, the Japanese language has a word to describe what the apprentice’s job is, “To steal knowledge from his master.”
From brooming the floor to haul sacks of coal to man the bellows blowing air into the forge, they must learn not only the basic skills of the trade but, in a way, they need to make theirs the whole culture of the trade. In other words, in the Japanese cultural understanding, apprenticeship is more than just learning – it is about becoming…like the master.
Rather than apprenticeship, the Scriptures uses the word “discipleship” which is the same idea. Jesus, while growing up he would have been working alongside Joseph, not only learning the skills of the trade, but by making him one that one day would become a master.
As a child, Jesus would have seen his father deal with difficult customers, to be resourceful and entrepreneurial, and to learn the patience needed to become a master. And, no. Being Jesus was not a free pass to being a genie, blink and make a table right then and there.
Like all of us, he had to learn. In fact, the Bible tells us that not only he had to learn, but that he did learn the hard way. For even if one has a love for learning, still learning will demand its wages – In one way or another. (Hebrews 5:8).
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus calling his first disciples or, apprentices. And He says, “Follow me.” Or, as in other instances, He would say, “Come and learn from me,” (Matthew 11:29).
That is to say that a call to follow Jesus is no more and no less than a call to personal development. It is a journey that would lead us to the maturity intended for us, until we reach “the fullness of Christ”, (Ephesians 4:13). It is to reach the point where God, from a distance, can say in confidence, “There is a good man, there is a good woman.”
In fact, Jesus call his brothers and sisters to come and join him in his mission of making real in this world what God intended even before Day One.
As disciples or apprentices there is no expectation that the change that sprouts from learning will not happen overnight. It is a life-long project.
When young Samuel was a young boy when he was called by the Lord to serve in a special way. But as a child, he didn’t go right away into ministry. There was a time for him to develop until the Scriptures tells us that Samuel grew up and “all Israel from Dan to Beersheba” came to know that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:20).
David is another case in point. And, as a matter of fact he is a good example because there is no other character in the Scriptures that better portraits human nature as he does. He was as inspired musician and poet as he was devious and a cheat. He was a great warrior and leader as he was dishonest and corrupt.
Well, perhaps we have not been as not as bad or corrupt as David was but, don't we all have some skeletons hidden in the cupboard of our souls?
Even as God knew him inside out, yet David learned that through it all, his heart was set on God. And let me suggest that it is essential to realize that time after time God rewarded David for his faithfulness rather than for his record.
When the church was growing among the gentiles one of the major challenges was that those who joined in, had no moral compass, “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.” In other words, I can do whatever.
But as St Paul admonishes his flock, nevertheless, not everything is good. And that is where the rubber hits the road. Yes, one can do whatever, but one shouldn’t slave oneself to whatever crosses the mind. And that, at first glance it is good ethical advice. But following Jesus is more than having a great ethical foundation.
Here is what St Paul had to say: “By the way, don’t forget that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.” If God is in you, therefore, you need to learn to live within such reality. For discipleship or apprenticeship is not only a matter of learning “the trade” but it is to “unlearn” and leave behind all and everything that may hinder our progress.
As we begin the new year it is a good time for us to take stock of our “learning curve.” Looking back to ten, five, and even one year ago, how much have you grown in the following of Jesus? Where are you in your apprenticeship?
Mind you, let me insist that I am not asking about what you are doing or if you have already memorized the Bible. But, rather, our journey as Christ’s disciples is above all, about becoming. How much have you learned and how much have you changed. Have you meet any of your goals. Have you any goals? Have you given up too early? Why? What help do you need? Have you looked for help?
How to learn from Jesus? Jesus calls us to join him along a life-long journey, learning of Him to enrich our lives and become all that God created us to be.
I know, still we are a few weeks away from Lent. So, take this as a simple “refresher.” Or as an opportunity to remember your calling to stick with Jesus and learn from Him. Even if you don’t get it all at first glance or even if the things don’t make sense to you. It is a process. It is a journey.
And here is the good news – We are not alone. The Spirit of God is not only with us but in us to impart us wisdom, love, and the power not just to pass, but to do well indeed, for as we just sung in our gradual hymn, “He will lighten every load.” Amen.