Be transformed as a disciple

by Dr. Edward Sri

redeemed

Dr. Sri is a theologian, author and well-known Catholic speaker who regularly appears on EWTN and travels around the world to address clergy, parish leaders, catechists and laity. He will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming Redeemed conference at the Scheels Arena in Fargo on April 7. Go to www.fargodiocese.org/redeemed2018 for more information and to register.

In a small church near the Piazza Navona in Rome stands a famous painting by the Baroque artist Caravaggio. I like to take pilgrims there, not just to admire the beautiful masterpiece, but to enter the mystery of what it means to be a disciple.

The painting depicts Jesus inviting Matthew the tax collector to follow him. In Caravaggio’s portrayal, Jesus enters the world of Matthew and his tax collector friends. Light pours through a window behind Jesus and streams into the darkness of the tax collector’s hole. The symbolism is clear: Jesus, the Light of the World, is entering the darkness of Matthew’s life. He looks Matthew in the eye, and points at him. He calls, “Follow me.”

Some of Matthew’s colleagues next to him don’t even notice what’s happening. These are men who are too caught up in themselves—unaware of others and oblivious to the fact that Jesus is in their midst. One older man stares at the money on the table, touching his glasses in a miserly way, wondering, “How much money did I make today?” Meanwhile, a youthful tax collector sits at the table forlorn, his head facing downward and his fingers stroking his coins. He has all the money in the world, but he is still empty, unfulfilled, searching for something more. These men are unaware of who just entered the room.

But there is one who does notice. It’s Matthew. The look on his face tells it all—multiple conflicting emotions torment him all at once. On one hand, Matthew is completely shocked that Jesus is pointing at him: “You want me, a tax collector, a sinner, to follow you? You must be thinking of someone else!” On the other hand, Matthew’s expression suggests he’s considering the new possibility: “I wonder what it would be like to follow this Jesus? What would my life be like if I made this change?”

In the same instant, Matthew also looks terrified. “There’s no way I could do that! I don’t want to leave my job, my career, my reputation, my friends.... I don’t want to let go of my money bags!”

Caravaggio’s painting beautifully captures Matthew at the point of decision—that pivotal moment between Matthew the tax collector and Matthew the disciple. What will Matthew do?

Holding on to our money bags

Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe you’ve experienced certain moments when you sense God is calling you to do something. It may not be an extraordinary spiritual experience – like seeing visions or having angels appear to you – just a subtle sense that you’re supposed to do something or not do something. You wonder if you should make a small change (call your mom, give extra attention to one of your children, visit a friend, or join a Bible study).

Those subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit are moments when Jesus is inviting you to follow him more closely. They often happen in midst of ordinary life. The same Jesus, the Light of the World, knocks on the door of our hearts. He wants to enter our lives and shine his light on any areas of darkness that keep us from a closer relationship with him.

Caravaggio’s painting invites us to do just that: to welcome Jesus into our lives more, to put ourselves in Matthew’s shoes and experience anew Jesus’s call to follow him more closely as disciples.

Me, a disciple?

Unfortunately, many Christians don’t view themselves as disciples. “I’m just a normal Christian. I go to church. I believe. I try to be a good person. But I’m not good enough to be a disciple.”

Too often, we view “ordinary Christians” and “disciples” as being in two separate categories. Disciples are those super-Christians, those who are part of an elite group of religious leaders or exceptionally spiritual people. Bishops, priests, Mother Teresa, lay leaders, and those “very religious” people who show up at every event at the parish—those are disciples. “But I’m just an ordinary guy in pew number 16. I could never be a disciple.”

But what if being a disciple is not beyond you and that it’s something you’ve probably already begun experiencing in your relationship with God? What if I told you that learning how to live intentionally as a disciple can make all the difference in your spiritual life?

If you desire a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus—if you desire your spiritual life to grow more profoundly and go beyond the humdrum existence of going through the motions—then join us for the upcoming Redeemed Conference in Fargo on April 7 and consider what it means to follow Jesus intentionally as a disciple.