Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics

March 16th, 2020 by Dave Leave a reply »

Always Listening
Sunday, March 15, 2020

Paul writes, “May the mind that is in Christ Jesus also be in you” (Philippians 2:5). This is the truest depth of our Christian tradition, what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus. We are called to recognize, surrender to, and ultimately be identified with the mystery of God utterly beyond all concepts, all words, and all designations. This is our destiny. —James Finley [1]

We have to remember that Jesus says nothing to us that he hasn’t somehow heard from God. Jesus is totally faithful to his relationship with God, whom he called “Abba.” It was because of the familial nature of their relationship that he was able to teach, heal, bless, and create the spiritual family we call the church. To be disciples of Jesus, we have to let ourselves be loved as he did. It is in receiving that love that we find our strength and power.

For Jesus, “discipleship” is about being in an intimate, loving, and challenging relationship, much like that between parent and child. There is a unique nature to the healthy parent-child relationship, and each person has a role to play. Ideally, the parent employs the gifts of experience and knowledge to care for, nurture, and protect the child. In turn, the child can depend on and trust the parent for sustenance, well-being, and guidance in a world of unknowing. Discipleship follows that sequence. First, we must learn how to be God’s children, allowing ourselves to receive love, to be loved, to be cared for, and believed in, so that we can be entrusted to go about our “Father’s business” as Jesus did (see Luke 2:49).

In the beginning, Jesus steps into his ministry as a child of God, not as the parent or authority figure. Rather, he lets himself be the recipient, and he trusts God to lead him. Because Jesus is always listening to God and experiencing God’s presence, God is able to continually teach him. Jesus doesn’t begin his life full of power and authority. He is born helpless and vulnerable like all of us, but throughout his life, he continues to grow in love and wisdom (see Luke 2:52). Like every true disciple, Jesus comes into the fullness of his being by faithfully following and listening to his Great Teacher, the unspeakable YHWH.

At the end of prayer in Jesus’ Judaism there is a beautiful and powerful expression of affirmation, “Amen,” which Christians adopted. Yet Jesus, a devout Jew, puts it at the beginning of everything important he says. Why would he do that? When Jesus says “Amen, Amen,” [there are numerous examples in John’s gospel] I believe he is seconding the motion: “Amen” to what he has first heard from God and a second “Amen” to the authority with which he holds and passes on that same message to us. Like good disciples, in loving relationship with God and companions with Jesus, we must pray for the confidence to also say, as it were, “Amen, Amen.” What I have heard from God is now mine to pass on to you—on the level of inner experience more than the level of knowledge.

Speaking Out 
Monday, March 16, 2020

Prophets must first be true disciples of their faith. In fact, it is their deep love for their tradition that allows them to criticize it at the same time. This is almost always the hallmark of a prophet. Their deepest motivation is not negative but profoundly positive. The dualistic mind presumes that if you criticize something, you don’t love it, but I would say just the opposite. There is a major difference between negative criticism and positive critique. The first stems from the need for power; the second flows from love. 

Institutions prefer loyalists and “company men” to prophets, even if they are mature institutions. We’re uncomfortable with people who point out our shortcomings or imperfections, but human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow and contradictions. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we are transformed and break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside of a world filled with contradictions are what I would call prophets. They are both faithful and critical. 

Albert Nolan is a Dominican priest from South Africa and the author of several books that challenge us to consider what it means to be a disciple and follower of Jesus. Today, he describes the role of a prophet and how Jesus fulfilled it.   

Prophets are people who speak out when others remain silent. They criticize their own society, their own country, or their own religious institutions. . . . This leads inevitably to tension and even some measure of conflict between the prophet and the establishment. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see how the prophets clashed with kings and sometimes priests too. Jesus was painfully aware of this tension or conflict in the traditions of the prophets. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you . . . for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). Jesus saw those who killed the prophets in the past as the ancestors or predecessors of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:29-35). 

The tension or conflict is between authority and experience. True prophets are not part of the authority structure of their society or their religious institution. Unlike priests and kings, prophets are never appointed, ordained, or anointed by the religious establishment. They experience a special calling that comes directly from God, and their message comes from their experience of God: “Thus says the Lord God.” 

We have seen how boldly and radically Jesus spoke out against the assumptions and practices of the social and religious establishment of his time. He turned their world upside down. The conflict that this created became so intense that in the end they killed him to keep him quiet. 

Any attempt to practice the same spirituality as Jesus would entail learning to speak truth to power as he did—and facing the consequences. [1] 


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