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Following Jesus

Following Jesus

As a part of Holy Week spiritual renewal I watched the movie, Jesus of Nazareth directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Every day I viewed a part of it for an hour and spent some time for reflecting over it. I have watched this movie several times and every time I watch it I get new insights. After watching the movie this time I am confirmed in my conviction that the Jesus depicted in the Gospels is entirely different from the Jesus created by his followers in course of time. The Gospels present a Jesus who fully realized the Divine within him and maximized that Divine in such a way that he could perform many things that were seen humanly impossible. Love, compassion, forgiveness and extraordinary courage were the result of realizing and maximizing the Divine within him through contemplation based on the realities of life.

I understand that Jesus was a leader par excellence and my role as a specially chosen disciple of Jesus today is to become a spiritual leader and facilitator with the qualities I have observed in Jesus. In the context of multi-religious and multi-cultural India where the communal divide between the Hindus and Muslims is alarmingly increasing I am called upon to play the role of a spiritual leader and facilitator of reconciliation and peace building.  While watching the movie I observed certain leadership attributes of Jesus, which would help me to perform my role effectively.

Jesus had clarity about his vision and mission. Jesus’ vision is Kingdom of God, a society in which all human beings are treated as sons and daughters of one Father with equal rights, opportunities and dignity without any discrimination. The same vision is reflected in the preamble of Indian Constitution. The constitution of India envisages a pluralistic or secular democratic nation in which all individuals enjoy justice, equality, liberty and fraternity that ensures individual dignity. As a disciple of Jesus, my dream also should be building such a society.

This vision of Jesus and of the nation can be realized through a radical transformation in the individuals and in the socio-economic, political and religious structures. Lk. 4: 18-20 depicts the mission of Jesus. It refers to the transformation that has to take place in the society by empowering the powerless by liberating all those who are exploited and oppressed. My mission also requires identifying the powerless and empower them through their capacity building, reducing the ever increasing the gap between the rich and the poor and struggling to eliminate discriminations, especially gender discrimination and gender bias both within the society and the Church.  

Jesus articulated and practised his core values in the process of realizing his vision and fulfilling his mission. These core values are forgiveness and reconciliation, compassion, sensitivity, availability, respecting every human person. He practiced them before teaching others. As a disciple of Jesus I am also expected to practice these values. I may be involved in various ministries like education, pastoral care, health care or social welfare according to the need of people with whom I live and work. Irrespective of my profession and area of involvement as a disciple of Jesus I am expected to practice these core values. In the absence of practicing these values my ministry will become ineffective and I will not be able to influence people. The main reason for the failure of many disciples of Jesus to influence people is lack of credibility. They are not able to witness to the values of Jesus.   

Jesus’ personality was a wonderful combination of courage, compassion and creativity. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament had these qualities and the Gospels present Jesus primarily as a prophet. Jesus was highly compassionate to the poor, the needy, the sick, the prostitutes, tax collectors. The Gospels depict a number of instances that vindicate his amazing compassion. Feeding the people who had come to listen to him is an excellent example for his compassion. When the disciples expressed their helplessness Jesus told them to search for alternatives instead feeling helpless.

The creativity of Jesus was reflected in the way he taught people using many parables and examples taken from the life of the ordinary people and how intelligently he replied to the tricky questions of the scribes and Pharisees who tried to trap him. When Jesus was asked whether giving tax to Caesar was appropriate or not, he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Mk. 12:17)

At the same time Jesus minced no words in condemning the religious leaders of his time for exploiting, oppressing and misleading people in the name of God and religion (Mt. 23:13-28). One who reads the Gospel carefully can easily grasp that Jesus was killed as result of a conspiracy by the religious leaders and the political leaders. Throughout the trial he exhibited extraordinary courage and he never compromised with his basic principles and values.  

To be an effective disciple of Jesus I need to nurture and develop the attributes of compassion, creativity and courage in me. My compassion should not be limited to charity but its aim should be restoring human dignity and empowerment. I should give up the meaningless rituals and practices and blindly copying others and use my God given unique creativity. I may be tempted to remain silent when I am expected to speak, but I should have the courage to stand up for truth and justice if I have to be faithful to Jesus. The Damocles’ sword of discipline and expulsion could be used against a disciple of Jesus when he or she questions authorities.

  Jesus had deep knowledge on various issues related to society, religion, politics etc. He could quote the scriptures and interpret them in relation to the life situation of the people. His knowledge could be the result of his deep study and learning from the book of life. As we understand from the Gospels, Jesus was a carpenter by his family profession. After listening to Jesus’ teaching, people were wondering how he could become so knowledgeable. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother, and aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers” (Mt. 13:55) Mt. 7: 29 says, “He wasn’t like teachers of law; instead, he taught with authority.” Only a person of deep knowledge can teach with authority.

The modern day disciples of Jesus are living in an age of knowledge explosion. It is said that knowledge multiplies in every three years. Hence if disciples of Jesus do not update themselves, they would become outdated and ineffective. Refusing to make use of modern means of acquiring knowledge like internet or denying internet facilities to the disciples of Jesus under the guise of virtue is not only stupidity but also a crime. Reading newspapers, news magazines and books along with making use of modern means of communication are needed for a disciple of Jesus to become aware of various issues and respond to them effectively.   

Jesus had excellent communication skill. He could easily communicate with all sections of the society: ordinary people, children, religious leaders and the members of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish judicial body.  He could challenge the Jewish leaders with his powerful speeches. At the same time he could attract children through story telling. Jesus was a wonderful story teller. An excellent example is the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’.  

Without effective communication skills like writing and speaking the capacity of the disciples to influence others will be very limited. Along with character and integrity the disciples of Jesus today need competence, especially writing and speaking skills. Proficiency in the language of the people with whom a disciple of Jesus lives and works is the first requirement for becoming an effective communicator. Frequent transfer of priests and Religious from one language area to another language area makes them like fish out water.

Jesus was a person of high self confidence and he could interact with all sections of the society from the learned to the illiterate. The very basis of self confidence is the belief that “I am created in the image and likeness of God and God dwells within me.” If God is within me, nothing is impossible for me. “Realize God, actualize God and maximize God” within a person should be the slogan of a disciple of Jesus.

The feeling that “I am a sinner” kills self confidence. Unfortunately, many prayers recited by the disciples of Jesus remind them constantly that they are sinners and thereby instil guilt and inferiority complex. Jesus has taught his disciples only one prayer and in that prayer God is addressed as “Our Father”, signifying that all human beings are primarily sons and daughters of God. Unfortunately many fundamentalist preachers inject guilt and exaggerated sin consciousness in the faithful, asking them to do penance not only for their sins but also the sins of their forefathers. They are committing a great crime.

God has created each human persona unique. There are about 7.6 billion people in the world and no one is exactly like another one. If God has created me unique, I have a space and unique role to play in this world and I need not copy anyone. Developing one’s unique personality with the unique gifts and talents enables a person to be become self confident and face any adverse situation with courage.

Jesus always placed people ahead of personal agenda, rituals, dogmas and laws . People were his most important priority . His non-institutional approach made him free to be available to the people always. Jesus welcomed all kinds of people to the kingdom of his Father irrespective of their religion, culture and social background.

Today many disciples of Jesus, especially priests and Religious are busy with routine prayers, rituals and institutional work. As a result they have no time to meet people. Ritualism, legalism and institutionalism are the three factors that alienate people from the modern day disciples. Many disciples of Jesus are being used as means for building and maintaining institutions that are not able to influence people and touch their hearts. 

Jesus was an excellent facilitator , facilitator of reconciliation and facilitator of mobilizing resources. An excellent example for the facilitation skill of Jesus is multiplication of bread (Mt.14:13-21). It was quite natural for people in those days to carry with some food when they went for travel. Jesus could persuade them to open their packets and share with others. As a result there was excess of food after feeding about 5000 people.

Today also the disciples of Jesus have to become facilitators of reconciliation and sharing resources. In the context of India the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims is increasing day by day. Against this backdrop the disciples of Jesus has opportunity as well as responsibility to become facilitators of reconciliation and builders of peace.

If more than 700 million people are hungry in the world today, it is not because of scarcity of food grains, but because of human greed and reluctance of people to share with others. Many problems of the world can be solved if people are ready to share with others their resources. The rich and the developed nations should be able to share a part of their resources with poor nations. Hence another important task of a disciple of Jesus is to facilitate sharing resources.

Jesus built a team through the capacity building of team members, delegation of authority along with tasks and taking feedback from them. Mk. 6:7-12 describes how Jesus sent his disciples in teams of two and delegated tasks with authority. Jesus also made an evaluation with his disciples. He asked them “who do people say the son of man is?”

The mission of the disciples of Jesus is a collective one and if they have to succeed in their mission they have to function as a team. Instead of team work what one observes among the disciples of Jesus today is unnecessary competition, leading to conflicts and strife.  Often teams of modern day disciples lack transparency, participation and delegation with authority.  

Jesus recharged and reinforced his own resource through contemplation, appointment with himself and God. The Gospels mention about Jesus’ prayer alone in silence or in lonely places several times, about 23 times. At the same time, he condemned long and shouting prayers (Mt. 6:7). It is evident from the Gospels that Jesus prayer was mainly contemplation, a dialogue with his father. Jesus prayed alone or contemplated before the crucial events in his life like before starting his public life, before the selection of the disciples and before his suffering and death.

For Jesus, prayer was a source of inspiration, guidance, strength and courage. Jesus did not use prayer as means to extract benefits from God by pressurising Him as some of the modern preachers do.  For disciple of Jesus contemplative payer should the source of his recharging. Without genuine prayer a disciple may deviate or get discouraged and disappointed.

The mission of a disciple of Jesus involves many challenges. If a disciple of Jesus is to become effective in facing the challenges creatively, he/she needs to rediscover the Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus whom the followers of Jesus have created through the centuries suffers from various distortions. For example, Jesus did not claim that he is a king. But the followers of Jesus made him a king so that they could enjoy the privileges and perks of a king. Jesus had very clearly said on several occasions that he came to serve and he is a shepherd. But the leaders of Christian communities have acquired unlimited power by keeping with them legislative, executive and judicial powers. Jesus called his disciples to follow his way of life and teachings, but the present day followers of Jesus are mainly worshipers of Jesus rather than followers of his teachings and ideals. Watching the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, and reflecting on the various aspects his life and teachings can enable a person to become an authentic disciple.

(Published on 20th April 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 17)