The Cost of Discipleship
By: Vince Guider
I really enjoy being a member of such a welcoming, thriving, giving church. The many wonders of Old St. Pat’s amaze me more and more every week. I am most especially impressed by the willingness of so many memebrs of our congregation to grapple with difficult social issues. I attribute much of this to our church mission statement that calls us to live out our faith outside our church doors. It poingnantly reads: Encounter the God who loves you. Engage in a community that welcomes you. Serve the world that needs you. In addition to the simplicity and eloquence of our mission statement, it also poses a central question me. Is it OK for me to merely live as a Christian who believes in Jesus in my mind and heart or is there a deeper calling for me to be one of His disciples? There is distinct difference indeed. The title “Christian,” meaning “belonging to Christ,” appears to have been invented by those outside of the early church. It was most likely meant as a derogatory term. It only appears two times in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). So, even though I can be a Christian intellectually and emotionally, a disciple is sometingg more. Disciples actually follow Jesus into circumstances that are not always clean, clear, convenient and comfortable the way we may prefer them to be. So I have to ask myself, “Will I suffice being Christian and comfortable or do I dare to move into the realm of less comfortable Christian discipleship?” The risks and challenges of discipleship confront me every day that I live and work on Chicago’s South and West Sides. Within minutes of me leaving the relative affluence of the West Loop, I often arrive at a store parking lot in a less prosperous neighborhood where a person will politely approach me to ask for spare change. That’s when my brain will begin to calculate the question and think up excuses to get out of the situation. I’ll ask myself, “Is he just trying to scam me or does he really need money for food like he says and am I safe?” If I am my best self that day my heart will weigh in and remind my brain that he very well may actually need it what he asked for and his need is not neccessarily posing any treat to my safety. Anyway, the most important humane question I need to answer for myself is NOT wheteher or not he genuinly needs help – the question is how shall I respond in love to his request. What, in my discomfort, should I do in those cases? NOTE to Reader: I hate to dissappoint you, but there is no magical solution I can offer here in case you are faced with similar situations. All are different and they come with their own complixities. However, I have learned that two things are certain every time. As disciples, we cannot simply turn away for pleas for help and not care, and we need to figure out how to respond on two levels – in our heads and hearts. When someone asks me for help there is something I need to decide to do (or not do) in that very moment. As best I can I will try to prudently and quickly figure it out. Yet beyond that moment, there’s even more I can do to help confront overarchingly unjust systems that cause brokenness in so many people’s lives. Some in the world of Christian ministry use catch phrases like Social Justice or Social Action to categorize the ways we respond to human suffering, but for now let me just say it this way – We are called to live like Jesus as His disciples, even at the risk of our own discomfort. Jesus came to earth not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). As a servant, Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15). In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus even affirms the woman who annoints His feet with ointment and tears and then dries them with her own hair out of humility and love for Him (Luke 7:36 and 8:3). Jesus never speaks of our convenience, efficency or comfort, He only calls us to serve unselfishly out of compassion. Thus, if somebody asks me for spare change or any oher form of help, I can either think about my service as a handout or a hand-up. My attitude makes all the difference in the world. Therefore, the next time I am approached by a person or group asking for my help, I will try and weigh any internal discomfort I am feeling. As I do, I will remember the challenging words of Mr. Xavier Ramey, a North Lawndale resident young adult, leader in his community and Kinship Initiative Board Member. He once said at a Kinship Initiative monthly gathering: “Just because one is uncomfortable in a situation that does not mean he/she is unsafe. People of privilege get used to feeling comfortable but poor and marginalized people live in perpetual discomfort. Try living in their shoes for a day.” I suppose some of those who have to ask me for help also feel rather uncomfortable and maybe even completely embarrased by having to do so. I must also consider their perspective. I am inspired by a huge banner that hangs over the main doors of St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side where Fr. Michael Pfleger is the Pastor. As I was leaving a funeral last week in that church which is so sprirtually and socially engaged in our city, I looked up and read the powerful statement which usms up the essential Christian dillemma: Discipleship will cost. Are you willing to pay the price?
Vincent Guider is an Old St. Pat’s member and Director of the North Lawndale Kinship Initaitive