When telling stories about Jesus and his disciples to a small child, I avoid using the word “disciple,” because it is a word that is not very common in a small child’s daily vocabulary. I usually use “pupil” or “student.” But even among literate adults, the word “disciple” is not a common word in our daily vernacular.
In the Gospel, the word “disciple” is used to refer to the disciples of Jesus. In church vernacular, we use the term “discipleship” regularly, and we refer to ourselves as “disciples,” instead of “pupils” or “students.” “Pupils” or “students” connote an association to educational institution, and the association usually is bound by specific time frame. “I was a pupil/student of such and such school from the year…to year…” or “I was a university student in town X when Jimmy Carter was the US President.”
Similarly, the word “disciple” is associated with a lifelong endeavour. “Kelly is a disciple of XYZ” means she became a disciple at one point in time, and then continued to be a disciple for the rest of her life—or at least she will be unless she changes direction and devotes the remainder of her life being a disciple of something or someone else. For myself, if I am a disciple of Jesus, then I am a disciple for the rest of my life, in every circumstance—through good times and bad times.
The word “disciple” also shares the same root with the word “discipline.” If I am a disciple of Jesus, then I discipline myself to follow the teaching of Jesus. And not infrequently, God disciplines me.
And last but not least, a disciple of Jesus is someone to whom Jesus “explained” what he meant. Jesus regularly spoke to big crowds on many occasions, and often the import of what he said escaped them, but Jesus “explained” the meaning of his words only to his disciples.
“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
And who were these disciples? They were those who heard Jesus and decided to dedicate themselves to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives. They disciplined themselves to obey Jesus’ instructions and to please him.
In contrast, the non-disciples sought Jesus to see and experience his work: to have their stomach filled, their diseases healed, and to have their beloved ones be rid of demons. But they sought not Jesus the person.
They sought the blessings, but not the one who blessed. They sought the words, but not obedience to the one who spoke.
The crowds did not stay with Jesus. They went home. The disciples followed Jesus wherever he went.
Ten days after Jesus went back to heaven, God sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. It is now the Holy Spirit who explains everything to the disciples of Jesus. The Word of God is spoken to many people in many settings. Jesus’ teachings are retold and explained by preachers, evangelists, missionaries, cell group leaders, etc., both outside the church and inside the church.
Many hearers are like those whom Jesus “spoke the word to them.” Many hear, but not all understand. The Holy Spirit is not silent and actively explains the Word to us. It is we who need to be more sensitive and actively listen to the Holy Spirit.
You may have seen a cone-shaped gadget that is used by someone (e.g. public announcer or coach, etc) to amplify his/her sound in public settings (often outdoors). In many parts of the world, this gadget is called a “megaphone.” Preachers are like a megaphone for the Holy Spirit. We can be sitting close to the megaphone, but we may not be listening or understanding what the Holy Spirit is explaining.
Many devout churchgoers enjoy the praise and worship experience and concur that the Holy Spirit is present during the worship. And after the singing is done, they sit down to hear from the preacher (i.e. the “megaphone”), but they do not necessarily listen to the “explanation” from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is talking, but is ignored. After the service is over, the attenders go home leaving the Holy Spirit at church instead of bringing the Holy Spirit with them—in their hearts and minds.
Other churchgoers just expect Jesus to come to their side instantly whenever they need his blessings or protection or healing. If Jesus does not come, they wonder where Jesus is. It is as if they expect Jesus to follow them around and do what they ask.
But Jesus is not the disciple. We are.
Where Jesus went, his disciples followed. What Jesus did, his disciples did.
May we not forget that we are his disciples and act likewise.