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"In the Dust of the Rabbi": Living as a Disciple of Jesus

3.0 "In the Dust of the Rabbi": Living as a Disciple of Jesus

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Optional Lectio Divina Prayer 

  1. Read Luke 5:1 – 11.
  2. Meditate on the words.
  3. Speak to Christ about this passage.
  4. Rest and listen in God’s presence.
  5. Discuss together.


It’s astonishing that, of the thousands of Jewish people in his day, Jesus chose a man like Simon Peter to be his disciple. 

Peter did not come with an impressive résumé. He did not stand out as one of the smartest or holiest or most gifted or most talented people of his time, nor did he hold any position of leadership among the Jews. He was not a priest. He wasn’t part of the elite ruling class. He wasn’t a religious expert like the Pharisees. He was just an ordinary, uneducated fisherman working on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

And it’s clear from the Gospels that Peter was far from perfect. He does exhibit some moments of great faith, but he’s also known for making big mistakes and overestimating his abilities, like misunderstanding Jesus (Mt 16:22), limiting forgiveness (Mt 18:21) and lacking in trust (Mt 14:30). Peter even denies Jesus three times and abandons him in his greatest hour of need (Mt 26:75).

Peter was an ordinary person like us — someone who had good intentions but didn’t have it all together — and yet, Jesus still called him to be his disciple. And Peter’s life was transformed through this process of discipleship: He eventually became a great Christian leader, a holy saint, a courageous witness to Christ and even a martyr in Rome.

That gives us great encouragement. God loves and chooses us just as we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay there. It’s the call to follow him that comes first, before the expectation to do great things. And if we answer the call, he will heal us and equip us to live as his disciples.  If Jesus can take weak, imperfect, far-from-holy men like Peter and transform them over time into saints, he certainly can do the same with us.

Discuss: Does knowing that Peter was not necessarily the most gifted and talented person in the world encourage you? In what ways have you had good intentions to be who Jesus was calling you to be, but failed?


DISCIPLES OF JESUS: IMITATING THE MASTER 

In the first-century Jewish world, being a disciple was all about one key word: imitation. When a disciple followed a rabbi, the goal wasn’t merely to master the rabbi’s teachings, but also to imitate the way he lived: how he prayed, studied, taught, served the poor and lived out his relationship with God day to day. 

Jesus himself said that, when a disciple is fully trained, he “becomes like his teacher” (Lk 6:40). When St. Paul formed disciples, he exhorted them not just to remember his teachings, but also to follow his way of living: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). He exhorted them to lead others in the same way (2 Tim 2:2).

Though the word disciple (mathetes) means “learner,” biblical discipleship was very different from modern classroom learning. On a college campus, a professor might give lectures to students in a large hall; the students take notes and they’re tested on the material later in the semester. But there’s usually not an ongoing personal relationship and sharing of life between professor and student in the university setting today.

In Jesus’ time, however, following a rabbi meant living with the rabbi, sharing meals with him, praying with him, studying with him and taking part in the rabbi’s daily life. A rabbi’s life was meant to be a living example of someone shaped by God’s word. Disciples, therefore, studied not just the text of Scripture but also the “text” of the rabbi’s life.

This is why Jesus didn’t simply ask his disciples to listen to his preaching in the synagogues. He said “Come, follow me” and basically invited them on a three-year camping trip as they journeyed throughout Galilee together during his itinerant ministry.

Think about that: living with Jesus, day in and day out, for three years! How much his disciples would have been influenced by his example! They’d notice the way he woke up early to pray. They’d witness his compassion in helping the sick. They’d be struck by his pressing need to go out to the sinners, Gentiles and outcasts. They’d see miracles of healing and resurrection. They’d also observe how he taught the crowds, debated his opponents, called people to repent and offered them mercy. Much of Jesus’ way of living would have “rubbed off” on his disciples.

Discuss: How does this idea of discipleship change the way you think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?


OUR DISCIPLESHIP TODAY 

While we’re called to follow all the doctrines and practices of the faith, much more is needed. We must go deeper and consider what’s happening interiorly. Are we moving closer to Christ, encountering him anew each day? Do we notice his ongoing call to conversion, his prompting in us to give more, love more and surrender more? A disciple is aware that Jesus is constantly inviting them to live more like him in all areas of their lives — as St. John Paul II said, “to think like him, to judge like him, to act in conformity with his commandments, and to hope as he invites us to.” (1) Being a disciple, therefore, entails a lot more than simply saying and believing the right things. It’s a whole way of life — his way of life transforming us.

This theme of discipleship reminds us how being Catholic is not a stagnant reality: “I identify on this survey as Catholic”; “I attend Mass on Sundays”; ”I believe all the Church’s teachings.” All that is necessary for a practicing Catholic, but living as a disciple involves so much more. Discipleship is something intensely personal and dynamic. It entails movement and transformation. The true disciple of Jesus is never stagnant, never just going through the motions. They never settle for mediocrity, for the bare minimum, for a “check-the-box” approach to faith. Rather, a true disciple is striving for greatness, always on the lookout for the next step of faith to which God is calling them. They are intentionally aiming to root out sins and weaknesses in their life, grow in new virtues and deepen their friendship with Christ. They’re intentionally trying to imitate Christ.

Indeed, a disciple of Jesus recognizes two fundamental truths: 

A. The truth about themselves: their many weaknesses, failures and areas where they fall short of living like Christ

B. The truth about what they’re made for: being conformed to the image of Christ, living like him, thinking like him and loving like him

A true disciple knows what he’s made for: transformation in Christ (B). But he also knows the many ways he falls short (A). Discipleship is all about moving from A to B. 

When our Catholic Tradition speaks about “growing in holiness,” “pursuing sanctity” and “becoming saints,” it’s basically describing this lifelong process of a Christian disciple being ever more transformed by God’s grace, changed into Christ’s likeness “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). 

Discuss: In what ways are you already living as a disciple of Jesus, and in what ways do you see yourself falling short?


LIVING AS A DISCIPLE: FOUR PRACTICES 

According to one ancient Jewish saying, if you encounter a rabbi, you should “cover yourself in the dust of his feet and drink in his words thirstily.” The expression draws on a well-known sight for ancient Jews: Disciples were known for walking behind their rabbi, following him so closely that they would become covered with the dust kicked up from his sandals. It was a powerful image for what should happen in the disciple’s life spiritually. Disciples were expected to follow their master’s way of thinking, living and acting so closely that it was as if they would be covered by his influence and example.

Thousands of years later, we’re called to do the same. Though we walk on paved roads, not dusty ones, we are still called to be disciples — to follow our Rabbi, Jesus Christ, so closely that we are covered by the “dust” of his life, changed and made new. These are exactly the kind of disciples that Jesus is looking for. He calls us to imitate him.

But how can we do that today?

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 2:42

The early disciples sought to imitate the life Jesus taught them in four ways: “They held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). We can think of these four key practices of a disciple — prayer, fellowship, the breaking of the bread (i.e., the sacraments) and the teaching of the Apostles — as the places where we encounter Jesus’ guidance and power today, just like in the early Church. They will help us to grow spiritually far beyond what we could ever do on our own.

These four practices of prayer, fellowship, the sacraments and the Apostles’ teaching are like the logs we can add to keep the fire of our faith growing. The more we live out these four things, the more we will encounter Jesus ever anew and coat ourselves in the dust of our Rabbi. 

For example, we sense in prayer God calling us to change, be better in a certain area or trust him more. We encounter Jesus in fellowship with our neighbor, the poor, the suffering and other Christians, who all encourage us in the faith and provide many opportunities to grow in the love of Christ by loving him abiding in them. We experience his love and mercy in the sacraments and long to come back again. We ponder an aspect of the apostolic faith that stirs us to praise or challenges us to make a sacrifice. All of this helps us become more like Christ: to experience his call to conversion, his gentle patience and mercy, his comfort and encouragement and his healing grace that incrementally changes us into his likeness.

Discuss: Looking at these four practices (prayer, fellowship, the sacraments and the Apostles’ teaching), what steps do you need to take to be better “covered in the dust” of your Rabbi, Jesus Christ?


TAKE ACTION 

Now that you’ve learned what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, you can begin taking some concrete steps toward becoming a more faithful disciple. Focus especially on how you can draw closer to Christ by making the four practices of Acts 2:42 a greater part of your life. The next several articles in this book can be helpful guides for learning how to incorporate these four practices in your daily life.


TRANSFERABLE CONCEPTS 

Imitation: One key word that sums up the life of a disciple is “imitation.” A disciple should be “covered in the dust of the Rabbi,” constantly striving to imitate Christ. 

In Acts 2:42, the four practices of a disciple of Jesus are 1) prayer, 2) fellowship, 3) the breaking of the bread and 4) the teaching of the Apostles. 


Additional Resources

Into His Likeness: Be Transformed as a Disciple of Christ by Dr. Edward Sri

The Activated Disciple by Jeff Cavins

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1805 – 1845: The Human Virtues


Notes 

1 John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, accessed February 25, 2020, Vatican.va, 20.