On Ascension Day, Jesus gathered His close friends on a mountain and spectacularly departed from them, leaving them in a state of shock. Some of them still harboured the hope that He would at last lead the country into political freedom from the power of the Roman Empire.
Instead He informed them that He was leaving to go back to His Father. He was telling then that their apprenticehip was over. Up to this point they had been His DISCIPLES – novices, students, listening and learning and absorbing His message and way of life. So in a word He was saying to them - ‘OVER TO YOU NOW’ - continue my work in my name.
From this point on they were to be His APOSTLES – people sent out, in Jesus’ own words “to make DISCIPLES of all nations.” He had provided them with the blueprint at the Last Supper when He said “I have given you an example, that you should do what I have done”.
This took them by surprise so He assured them that He would not leave them orphans; that He would be with them always. He would send them the Holy Spirit to guide and empower them in their work. And that coming of the Holy Spirit is what we celebrate today- PENTECOST SUNDAY.
And what an effect that coming had on them. From hiding in a room for fear of the Jews, they burst out into the street to proclaim the Good News. They were men and women totally transformed by a power beyond imagination. They realised they were not on their own. In their words and actions they became aware of a powerful presence with them. As the prayer says: "COME HOLY SPIRIT, FILLS THE HEARTS OF YOUR FAITHFUL AND ENKINDLE IN THEM THE POWER OF YOUR LOVE.”
The pattern of their lives is the blueprint for ours. Every baptised Christian since has the same vocation and follows a similar path. We start as DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ- novices, students, listening, learning ,absorbing His message and way of life.
Then as APOSTLES we are asked to put what we have learned into practice by a combination of worship and service. Again Jesus is the model. At the Last Supper He PRAYED with His friends and then WASHED their feet. As APOSTLES we are asked “to go ….and make DISCIPLES” of those we meet, so that they in turn will become APOSTLES. The Power of the first Pentecost is ours in our efforts.
These weeks should have been weeks of many ‘pentecosts’ for the Confirmation children. Their day for becoming young apostles will be celebrated soon too. The question I ask myself today is :- 'AM I A DISCIPLE or AM I AN APOSTLE?'
Have I remained a DISCIPLE—knowing a certain amount about my religion, fairly faithful to Church regulations without any of them impinging too much on how I think or act; attending but not belonging; supporting but not involved. Sadly that pattern of Christian living will never attract anyone to the ranks.
The APOSTLE on the other hand has to INTERNALISE his/her faith. Faith here is a commitment to and a personal relationship with a PERSON. The Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit invites us and everyone else into their family to share their love and be strengthened by their power. We in turn see God in those we meet each day and bring His love, compassion and mercy to life in their lives. The true APOSTLE is a WITNESS to the Good News and not just a PREACHER. The witness has experienced personally God’s love and compassion and can’t resist the urge to share it with others. St. Paul said “I LIVE, NOW NOT I BUT CHRIST LIVES WITHIN ME”. He knew Jesus so personally that his whole life mirrored that of Jesus.
The preacher speaks from the head. The witness speaks from the heart. Witnesses attract! There is a world of difference between the influence of an APOSTLE/ WITNESS and that of DISCIPLE/PREACHER as the following will show:
A preacher was asked at a village fair by a small old man to recite Psalm 23- THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD. He agreed to do so on condition that the old man would recite it after him. So the preacher recited the whole Psalm flawlessly in a booming voice and with great drama. The audience burst into loud applause. Then it was the old man’s turn. When he finished there was absolute silence. The audience was speechless and in tears. The preacher put his arms around the old man and said to the crowd “I know the psalm but this man knows the shepherd”.
When we know THE SHEPHERD, then we will attract others to follow Him.
Have I remained a DISCIPLE or am I trying to be an APOSTLE?