Discipleship can be difficult to grasp. It can be like an old coat that doesn’t quite fit. We can be quite convinced that it is our coat and that it should fit but we struggle to put it on. Once we do struggle into it, it is not quite comfortable on us. Mostly we think that discipleship is doing what we are supposed to do, that is, what Jesus would have us to do. Faith is lived out in obedience, we speak of the obedience of faith, but it is not exhausted in it, it is only the beginning. Jesus instructs his disciples to do things but he also wants them to know how and why they are done. He wants his disciples to understand. He wants them to see and experience deeply the hand of God in the everyday work that they do. Faith in discipleship is understanding the mystery of God the Father and his love for his children. We can love someone without complete understanding but our love should cause us to strive for a greater understanding even though it is ultimately beyond us to grasp fully the mystery of an other, and especially of the Other. We can do what Jesus tells us to do but there is more. Faith wants to take us out into the deep to drop our nets and to know, with the certainty of faith, that there is something there for us to catch. We not only can do what Jesus tells us to do but we can do more and even greater things than we could have possibly imagined. Jesus tells his disciples in the Last Supper discourse in John: “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen,I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” (Jn 14,10-14)
Disciples are not only called to do the works of Jesus but they are called to do even greater works. That seems like a wonderful thing but it just doesn’t feel like it fits us. It is a struggle for us as disciples to “put on Christ” and to meet our potential in the life of faith. There seems to be crazy expectations. Our struggles in faith can become storms of doubt. The disciples, after witnessing the feeding of the multitude, are facing a great sea of doubts. They are still living their faith by the numbers. There are 5000 people to feed, there is only 5 loaves and 2 fish, the numbers say to dismiss the people and send them away to feed themselves. The numbers tell us of our limitations. Jesus challenges the disciples to give the people something to eat themselves. This seems like an impossible expectation. Is discipleship about impossible expectations?
Clearly in our world today the expectations of discipleship seem to be impossible. We are fighting against a strong wind of change and uncertainty among people today. We are bombarded by statistics of how quickly we are failing and in danger of becoming irrelevant. We can’t even gather together as a community to celebrate and feed our faith. When Jesus comes again will there be any faith left on the earth? There are great storms brewing.
In the gospel, Jesus “makes” the disciples get into a boat without him and he sends them out onto the stormy seas. Jesus went up on the mountain (think heaven) by himself to pray for his disciples who are facing the storms of their doubts. When the storm is at its worst, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the sea. Jesus not only is able to beat the numbers and feed the vast crowd while gathering 12 baskets of leftovers, but he is able to rise above the stormy waters of doubt and change and walk calmly on the waters. Peter asks Jesus to allow him to do greater things and come to him on the water. Jesus of course says to him, “Come.” Peter steps out of the boat in faith and begins walking toward Jesus on the waters. Unfortunately, Peter begins to calculate the height of the waves and the strength of the winds and he quickly sinks into the sea. Jesus stretches out his hand and catches him before he goes under. So little faith, such persistent doubt.
Discipleship is not about calculations. We can’t be persistently counting the costs of discipleship and considering our limitations. We are always going to come up short. By the Father’s grace we are called to perfect our human nature by sharing in the divine nature and to do great things for God’s glory. When we think of Jesus as having special powers we put distance between ourselves and God. God sent Jesus into the world to remove that distance and to heal us from the pain, fear, woundedness and doubt that separate us from God. Jesus is truly “one like us” and we are meant to be more perfectly one like him.