Don't Just Be a Follower; Be a Disciple
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
What does that mean to us today? What is it to be one of the Lord’s sheep and to follow Him? Whom do we follow?
The concept of a “follower” has taken on a new, nuanced meaning in our day and age. In a world of social media (like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), to be a “follower” means to be interested in what a person or group has to say or offer. However, this type of following costs us nothing; it demands nothing. It is distant, tenuous, and really only as strong as the last post or tweet that someone reads. We can break this sort of relationship without any cost or repercussions.
However, is this the sort of “following” that we talk about in the Church? Is this the sort of following that Jesus invites us into? Are we like the jealous people in the First Reading who saw Paul and Barnabas gaining followers for Christ and reacted with lies and smears? Are we merely interested in numbers at the expense of relationships? Our Facebook page has almost 1,500 followers; however, how many of them do we regularly see at Mass? They like our posts and may even share things we put up there, but they are not truly engaged. It begs the question: Is it enough today to be a “follower”? (I mean follower as we now know it).
Or is Jesus asking something more from us? Does our Shepherd invite us to something deeper than simply detached lurking on a social media page? Nowadays, we are no longer called to be followers; we are called to be disciples.
Discipleship means more than simply watching the Church from a safe distance. It means more than just liking what our parish does or attending traditional events. It is bigger than just “activity”; it is apostleship – it means engaging Jesus on a personal level and taking that relationship outward to others. Sadly, today, “following” has become a passive activity; “discipleship” is the active attitude of a true member of the flock of Christ.
“My sheep hear my voice.” That is the key for any disciple. Are we listening? Are we tuned to the voice of Jesus, as a sheep is tuned to the sound of its shepherd’s voice? We live in a world full of noise – full of voices. We regularly choose to follow those voices – whether it’s an advertisement for the latest iPhone, or the newest earworm on the radio, or the scuttlebutt around the last Game of Thrones episode. We are listening; but are we listening for the right Voice?
This is where real, simple prayer comes into play for us. Can we find the time to quiet ourselves – our minds, bodies, and desires – to simply listen to Jesus speaking to us? Spending real, significant time in prayer helps us to become attuned to the voice of the Lord, so that when He calls us we hear the voice of a friend, not a stranger, and we can go where He leads us. Simply being a “fan” of Jesus is not enough. We need to be all-in, like Paul and Barnabas, like Peter and John, like those people who shared their faith with us.
A true disciple seeks opportunities to be involved in the life of their parish, rather than waiting for some need to arise or someone to invite them. A true disciple knows what it means to say that the Lord “has rescued me.” A true disciple cannot keep quiet about their faith, even when our popular cultural conventions would tell us to “keep it in church.” That may be a convenient excuse to be silent about our relationship with the Lord, but it is not an excuse that God recognizes; it is not what the Apostles did.
As we celebrate this Sunday, let’s listen to the voice of our Shepherd; and let’s be more than mere “followers.” Let’s be disciples!