Disciples give witness. Disciples make disciples.
As we approach the mid-point of our Lenten journey, the Church gives us three Gospel readings from St. John's Gospel, for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent, which focus on discipleship. These readings are particularly poignant for me this year, as from my vantage point I see people around the Archdiocese of Boston increasingly using the language of discipleship, of evangelization, of mission, and I see parishes increasingly focused on making disciples.
The readings in their sequence lay out the path clearly: encounter, healing and enlightenment, and new life.
This Sunday we read about the encounter that the Samaritan woman at the well has with Jesus. Many things flow from what begins here, but we note that it all begins with an encounter with Jesus. This helps us to ask the question: "If I am going to help to make disciples, how can I bring people into an encounter with Jesus?" One way is through our witness. Can you tell people about how you have encountered Jesus in your life? Another way is by praying with them, or by reading the Bible with them. Have you ever invited someone to come to adoration with you for a few minutes before going to grab a bite to eat?
The encounter with Jesus almost always involves the difficult task of struggling with our sin. We are to "Repent and be faithful to the Gospel." This is difficult, because we never want to be overly focused on the sin of another. But how about, if you are going to confession, inviting them to go with you?
Then note what the Samaritan woman did after she had encountered Jesus. She goes and tells everyone. They meet Jesus too. At first they were moved because of her words, and then they are moved because of their own encounter. So it always goes. Disciples give witness. Disciples make disciples.
The next Sunday have the reading of the healing of the man born blind. The man is an image for us of one for whom an obstacle exists. He needs Jesus. No one else can give him what he needs. We need so many things. We need healing. We need understanding and wisdom. Sometimes we simply need information. "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" the man asks Jesus. Sometimes we need someone to accompany us. Sometimes we need confession.
We all have a next step to take. What is the obstacle in your life that is preventing you from taking that step? How can you, or somebody helping you, remove it? How can you help to remove the obstacle in the life of someone in your family, in your neighborhood, in your workplace?
And once again we see the one who has been encountered and healed giving testimony to Jesus. He speaks boldly to the people questioning him. "He is a prophet," he says, and again: "One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see." Disciples give witness. Disciples make disciples.
Finally, on the 5th Sunday, we read of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This is a great fruit of discipleship. In part, we experience this new life now. Many parts of us are dead or death-like: our sin, our fear, our resentment, our grudges, our pettiness, our judgments, our selfishness. These things flee, and are driven out again and again by the grace that comes in the life of a disciple, grace that comes through prayer and fasting and the sacraments and caring for the poor. They are replaced with joy -- Easter joy -- a joy that is so very much better than mere pleasure or contentment -- a joy that only Jesus can give.
And, if we can begin to see the fruits of discipleship, new life in the Kingdom of God, even now, how much more will we see it in heaven?
Many people come to believe in Jesus when they see Lazarus risen from the dead. And so it always goes. Disciples give witness. Disciples make disciples.
Encounter, healing, new life. This is the way of discipleship. This Lent, try to discern these in your own life. And may God bless you.
- Father Paul Soper is the Secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship for the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as the Director of Pastoral Planning.