by: Fr. Serg Kabamalan, CJM
My sister Mae was eight years old when she refused to go back to school after witnessing how her classroom adviser castigated and berated her classmate who failed to accomplish his homework. It traumatized her. She declared to my parents that she does not like a teacher who “scares her out of her wits.” She cried and refused to dress up each day for school whenever my mother forced her to, until an arrangement was made to allow her to join another class with another teacher. I was just a year older than her and, at that time, I thought that she was just being a brat.
Looking back, what she may have been trying to articulate with both words and action was that she cannot possibly learn with a teacher who no longer inspires her to learn and to make studying a truly worthwhile and enjoyable journey of growing up. Fortunately, she got over it, and she did learn to love learning. At 26 years old, she was able to complete two (2) bachelor’s degree in college, one after the other, with the “masters” who inspired her to learn and live the best way she can.
Our gospel this Sunday gives us a remarkable insight at being a student of life, a disciple, at the Master’s feet. Being a disciple does not begin and end with listening to the words of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is more than just witnessing and proclaiming the great deeds of our Lord. Discipleship has something to do with our whole life with the best possible Master who can lead and guide us. Here are some points that elucidate what Jesus himself thinks about it:
1. Know who Jesus truly is! The ministry of Jesus would have gone for nought if the very ones in his inner circle were unable to recognize who he is by the words and deeds that they were privileged to hear and see. That is why he had to ask his disciples about it. The first question, ““Who do the crowds say that I am?” is preparatory to the real question, “Who do you say that I am?” Our knowledge of who Jesus is in our lives has to be articulated in a very personal way as it brings us into deeper reflection on our own experiences where the Jesus of the Gospels we hear proclaimed on Sundays can be recognized as the same Jesus who moves in our daily lives. Reflect and pray over it, we must, for it is in the context of prayer that the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples happened. Indeed, it is only in prayer that we can revisit our ordinary experiences and see it from a higher plane.
2. Understand who Jesus is in a deeper way. Peter confessed on behalf of the disciples that Jesus is “The Christ of God.” But they all got rebuked for it. The rebuke may be interpreted at two levels: first, because it is not yet time to proclaim it; and, second, because although they got it right, they did not really understand their own confession. Hence, the need for them to continue to know and understand their Master. From this viewpoint, Jesus’ prophecy about his impending passion, death and resurrection – is an invitation for the disciples to re-examine and understand their image of Jesus as “the Christ of God” not just from the Jewish worldview and tradition nor from their own personal and past experiences of Jesus in the mission. The completion of the revelation about Jesus’ identity was about to come with the culmination of his mission on the cross, the embracing of human suffering and death, and the laying down of his own life for all.
3. Accept one’s gift of life even during trying times like Jesus did. Jesus exhorted his disciples to deny themselves, carry their crosses daily and follow him. It means saying yes to life not according to human and worldly terms, for this is too narrow and self-defeating. The world glorifies the self to the exclusion of others. It teaches truncated autonomy that amounts to selfishness and self-aggrandizement. This is the self that must be denied. We rather say yes to self that is inclusive and sensitive to the needs of others by following the path of Jesus, where we can find meaning even in the face of suffering and pain.
My little sister I told you about earlier, passed away just as she was completing her second degree. Someone took her life. But the way she went inspired us her family and friends to go and look back at how she lived her life. It was not an easy life given the choices she made. She could have had it easier if she stuck with her first career option as a pharmacist. But she loved painting; she loved exploring where creativity could lead her. So, she pursued her second degree, Fine Arts major in Painting. She never complained about the hardships it entailed - physical, financial and emotional! And there was literally a lot to complain about. All through her journey, she had been very prayerful, kind and generous. In her little way, she took what life gave her, and gave back to life to the best of her ability. We found a clue why, from the final draft of her thesis where she wrote in her acknowledgment, “Thank you God, for showing me that life is beautiful.” I guess that is one valid way whereby discipleship could be lived well!