Why did Jesus say follow me?

"But you follow me!" (Jn 21:22) -How does one become a disciple of Jesus?

Let us pray!

Come, Holy Spirit, come before our reflection, our hearing, our feeling and our will with your grace and accompany it, so that everything we do and begin begins with you and is also strengthened through you to the goal. So we ask through Christ our Lord! Amen!

Does being a Christian mean being a disciple of Jesus? If the answer is yes, what does it mean to be a Christian as a disciple? Then what is discipleship? If being a Christian and being a disciple are not to be equated, is there, so to speak, a general and a special Christianity, one for the general public and one for very special Christians, the disciples? This question was posed to me in a very specific way, when it came to my vocation as a priest and religious. Is that a special call, or is it just a call to be a Christian, to follow Christ? Can one be a completely normal Christian, without a special form of life, without the status of succession as a religious or a priestly vocation?

The most successful book in the history of Christianity after the Bible is entitled: "The Imitation of Christ" ("De Imitatione Christi") by Thomas von Kempis, completed in 1441 (cf. Peter Dyckhoff, On the Way in the Imitation of Christ. Spiritual Living according to Thomas von Kempen, Freiburg / Br. 2004). This book has nourished countless Christians in their lives. Little St. Theresia knew it largely by heart. This book is clearly not written for a specific group of Christians, but for all. It is also read by everyone, far beyond the realm of Christianity. Many famous and even more unknown Christians have drew their nourishment for the path of Christian life from following Christ, have orientated themselves, trained and checked them.

Dag Hammerskjöld (fatally injured in 1961) was Secretary General of the United Nations. In his spiritual diary (Signs on the way. The spiritual diary of the UN Secretary General, Stuttgart 2011, e.g. 7.4.1953; 1955, p. 131; 29.7.1955 etc.) there are numerous quotations from the following of Christ. This great diplomat wanted to be a disciple of Jesus with all his being and life. But he was neither a monk nor a priest. For him, this book was one of the guiding stars of his life. A second example was Robert Schuman († 1963), the great politician, one of the founding fathers of Europe. A beatification process for him is under way. He, too, has repeatedly drawn from the book of the Imitation of Christ (cf. Gisbert Kranz, from Aschoka to Schuman. Ten exemplary statesmen, Würzburg 1996).

Once again the question: Is being a Christian the same as being a disciple of Jesus? Yes, undoubtedly, and yet again not. That's what it will be about today. It's not that easy, although I believe the reason is very simple. As announced, I would like to start out strongly from the biblical testimony: What does Jesus himself tell us? How is the experience of the early Church of being a disciple, disciple of Jesus? And what does this mean for our diocesan path of renewal? Finally, as we look to the signs of the times, what does the Lord show us through the events of our time on this matter?


Let us first take a look at the first callings. How did people come to join Jesus and leave everything for him, their families, their jobs, their homes, their surroundings, their familiar surroundings? At the same time, we have to ask ourselves what it looks like for those who have joined Jesus inwardly, but have not wandered with him but stayed at home. Finally, Jesus himself asks what about those who know nothing about Jesus. Can the vast majority of people somehow be disciples of Jesus?

First of all, something crucial: The following of Jesus, as we encounter it in the New Testament, is not in a vacuum. Jesus cannot be understood without his history. He is inseparable from Israel. His mission and his mandate are inseparable from the mission of Israel, they stand in the "history of the gathering of the people of God from Abraham to today". The exegete Gerhard Lohfink, to whom I will often refer to today, has written a book: "Does God need the Church? On the theology of God's people" (Freiburg / Br. 1998, p. 9). In it he explores the question of why there is a church at all and what the mission of the people of God actually is from the very beginning until today. The mission of Jesus is inextricably linked with the election of the Jewish people, the people of God, with the history of the Old Covenant. We cannot have Jesus without the old covenant. The old covenant is a story of callings, a story of segregation and commission, a story of mission and empowerment. If we want to reconsider Jesus and his followers for our time, we must never detach him and ourselves from the long history of the old covenant. If you want to have Jesus without the Old Testament, that would be like violin strings without sounding bodies. We cannot understand Jesus without Israel, the chosen people.

We are already at the beginning of our way at a very important fork in the road. If we want to understand our mission today as Christians, as disciples of Christ, then we have to look to the path of the Jewish people. This is our prehistory, the centuries of practicing a path with the will of God. It means practicing what it means to bear the yoke of election, as the Jews said. For Catholics in countries where we have long been used to being an often comfortable majority, it is a difficult learning process that we are currently facing to adjust to a new situation in which professing Christians are largely in their environment, their profession , their circle of friends, colleagues as a minority, even if the majority of the population here and in many parts of Europe describes themselves as Christian, as Catholic. A Jewish friend accompanied me to the airport in Israel. On the way we talked about the situation of the Church in Austria. He asked me how it is and I told him a little about the many people leaving the church and the fierce headwind the church has in our country. Then he said to me with a smile: "We have been used to it for centuries, whether you are sympathetic or unsympathetic as a Jew, whether you find applause or not, one thing is certain: You are always a Jew! And with that you will, at least in large parts our world is still the same today, even looked a bit crooked ". And he said: "You will get used to it, you Catholics, 'welcome on board', so to speak, whatever you do: Well, the Church ... Whether with success or failure, whether criticized or praised: the Church, the Catholics ... "I don't say this to make us pessimistic, but to practice what discipleship means in the sense of Jesus.

A word from the great Jewish writer and psychologist Manès Sperber, who lived in Vienna and above all in Paris, makes this clear. In his autobiography "The Water Carriers of God. All the Past ..." (Vienna 1974, p. 70) he writes this bitterly serious sentence: "Only a few non-Jews have ever understood that Jewish suffering occurs not in spite of, but primarily because of being chosen In making a covenant with us, God threw upon us the divine brick of his grace. Since then we have borne the oppressive burden of being chosen like a curse, and yet we are to praise him three times a day as a blessing. " That is certainly a bit bitter said, but a serious and profound truth. The yoke of being chosen to be a discipleship of Jesus stands in the tradition of the election of the Jewish people who are chosen by God.

In the first catechesis I meditated on the passage where Jesus said to Peter that he must be prepared for suffering, and then added generally: "If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow after me "(Mt 16:24). Here lies the crucial point for the path of reform to which the Lord invites us: it is about a new view of our Christian vocation. Gerhard Lohfink clearly states this in the book already mentioned. Based on his own life experience, which has also led him to a new beginning, that he has given up his chair at the university and joined a new Christian community, he writes: "Nowhere does the Bible deal with pastoral plans and pastoral strategies. Instead, it shows itself almost every side: God does not act everywhere, but in specific places. He does not act at any time, but in a certain hour. He does not act through everyone, but through people he chooses. If we do not understand this again, it will be in do not give the church a renewal in our day, because this old principle of salvation history also applies today "(Does God need the Church ?, p. 10). God acts through people he chooses. Are we one of them? That was the question I asked myself as a teenager: Do I belong to those who have been chosen, to a certain assignment, a certain mission?


How was it in the beginning? Jesus begins his public work by calling individual people to him and gathering them around him. How does the church begin when the church is the gathering of people in and around Jesus, through and around Jesus? The first vocations are briefly described by the Evangelist Mark. Two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andreas are at work, Jesus walks past the bank and says: "Come, follow me! I will make you fishers of men" (Mk 1:17). Jesus calls them with authority, very definitely and without discussion: Do you want, does that suit you? Mark describes the consequences directly as follows: "Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (Mk 1:18). Following Christ is very literal here: walking with Jesus, setting out on the path, abandoning everything, sharing his life, an unsettled wandering in poverty. This circle of people who walk with Jesus will soon be larger. The result is a larger group of people who are ready and who share the poor wandering and preaching life with him. At a certain point in time, he selects twelve men from this growing circle. Mark describes it as follows: Jesus "went up a mountain and called to him those whom he wanted himself, and they came to him. And he created (epoiesen) Twelve that they were with him and that he would send them out to proclaim and have authority to cast out demons "(Mk 3: 13-15, translation after G. Lohfink). Then follows the list of the twelve apostles.

What role does this circle of twelve play? This question is important for discipleship in following Jesus. Are they, so to speak, the original model of every successor? Does everyone who wants to follow Jesus have to follow this pattern, or do they have a special assignment? Are they a core force that as many as possible should then join? Or are they a special group that only stands for itself? As is so often the case here, there is no either-or, but both and also. To this day the Church is apostolic as we confess it in the Creed. The twelve are undoubtedly the core of the apostolic ministry. Jesus chose them consciously in order to give his community and his family a clear structure. Markus says he "created" the twelve. The term is the same as that used on the first page of the Bible for the creation of the world. Jesus sets an act of creation, a new creation. God creates them as he creates the world. He creates the world out of nothing and the calling of the twelve is something completely new. The Bible already uses this expression for the people of Israel, God creates the chosen people (cf. Is 43: 1). He's saying something very important: It wasn't they who came up with this, got together and founded an association with statutes, but just as the Creator wanted the world to be created, so he wanted these twelve. He called those he wanted to him. He constitutes them, he forms this group.

Jesus chooses twelve with a very specific purpose. We know from the Bible: The twelve tribes of Israel make up the whole people, they descend from the twelve sons of Jacob. All the people of Israel, the chosen people: Jesus wants to restore this image. It is supposed to have a new core in the twelve apostles, so to speak. "You did not choose me, but I chose you", says Jesus to the twelve in the Upper Room shortly before his suffering (Jn 15:16). They didn't choose each other either, they certainly wouldn't have, because they are as contradictory and different as you can imagine. There is a tax collector Levi, Matthäus, a collaborator with the occupying power, the Romans, and there is a Simon the Canaanite, the Zealot, one of the radical enemies of the occupying power. They should now become a community. - Besides that, our parishes are harmless! - In between there are people from everyday professions, some fishermen, we don't know about the others which professions they had.

Jesus takes these twelve to his school of life. A large part of the gospels is showing how Jesus took them into his school. It is reported with unbelievable honesty and openness how often they get "bad grades" or fail to do their homework because Jesus' school of life is not that easy. The twelve represent the ministry of the Church. The quorum of bishops follows the quorum of the twelve apostles. But the twelve are also something of a model group for every Christian togetherness, the Christian community. Jesus brought them together to give them the office, but also so that, as Mark says, "be with him". That is the first goal of their calling that all Christians have in common. To be with Him is the essence of Christian calling, discipleship, so simple. That is the permanent basis of every Christian life. Here the circle of twelve is not only the permanent foundation of the official church, but also the core of Jesus' school of life. Most of what we know about Jesus' "school of life" we know from what Jesus did with his twelve apostles, how they learned from him. It is striking that Jesus did not choose any "experts" for this, a great request to the Church today. There is not a single scribe, not a Pharisee, not one from the group of those who are particularly religiously committed, and also not a Sadducee, i.e. the religious priestly elite from the temple in Jerusalem. They are all simple "laypeople". It is the faith of the Church that Jesus made them priests, shepherds, by instructing them: Do this in memory of me! According to their origins, they are simple lay people, not "religious specialists".

The Acts of the Apostles says so specifically. When Peter and John stand before the Sanhedrin because they healed a paralyzed man at the golden door of the temple, the Sanhedrin asked them why they did this and, above all, why they were promoting the name of Jesus. Then it says in the Acts of the Apostles: "When the councilors saw the boldness of Peter and John and saw that they were unskilled and uneducated men, they were amazed. They realized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). In the Greek text it says here idiotai (from which our word idiots comes from), that is, uneducated. Jesus chooses them as witnesses of his good news. The councilors "realized that they had been with Jesus". I wish they could also tell from us that we were with Jesus! As important as it is to study theology, the bottom line is to be with Jesus. Hence, these simple men have the wisdom and courage to confess and testify of Jesus before the council.


This learning is also a painful process. We saw this in the first catechesis. Jesus points Peter rightly because he does not think in God's way but in the human way. In Jesus' school, these twelve must become new people. To this end, Jesus wants to make them his family. The family of Jesus. You have to learn a new way of being with one another, the deepest ground of which, the most real secret of which is nothing other than the interaction between Jesus and the Father. In the Upper Room, Jesus will pray for his twelve and for all who will come to faith through them, they "should be one: As you, Father, are in me and I am in you ... they should be one, like us one are "(Jn 17: 21-22). They should learn from Jesus' fellowship with the Father what it means to become the family of Jesus.

No other given model is sufficient to understand this new coexistence of the disciples of Jesus, the new family of Jesus. There were different models of how to be a disciple in Israel. The model that one thinks of spontaneously is the teacher-student relationship, which plays a very large role in Judaism. You go to a rabbi to become his disciple, to study the Torah. It is something wonderful how this teacher-student relationship between a rabbi and his students is lived in Jewish life to this day. Paul himself was a pupil of Gamaliël, he reminds us that he sat at the feet of this great rabbi and learned from him (cf. Acts 22: 3). It is a wonderful thing to find a great master and teacher! The rabbis had their student groups.But there is one fundamental difference to the student group of Jesus: In the student group of a rabbi, the Torah, the law of God, is in the middle. Everything revolves around that. I had a profound experience in New York at Yeshiva University, where young students study the Torah and its interpretation through the Mishnah and the Talmud with incredible zeal. I can only admire that and wish that we study, work through, "chew through" the Holy Scriptures with just as much enthusiasm, I would almost say.

However, it is different with Jesus and his disciples. Rainer Riesner, a great German Protestant exegete and friend, put it this way: "Jesus disciples and rabbinical students differ fundamentally from each other primarily in that Jesus tied his disciples to his own person" (Rainer Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer, Tübingen 1981 , P. 417; see Martin Hengel, Nachstieg und Charisma, Berlin 1968). Can you put it that way? Did Jesus make himself a guru? Without question, he is the center of this circle of disciples. They should learn from him. He is the living Torah. When he says in the Sermon on the Mount: "It was said to the ancients ..." - i.e. in the Torah and its interpretation - "But I tell you ...", then he is the focus. No rabbi would have dared to focus on himself as Jesus did. Is that overconfidence? Some kind of guru mentality? Or is it because he really is the master? "You call me Master and Lord, and you say correctly, because I am", says Jesus (Jn 13: 13-14). But he said so at a moment when he was washing the feet of the apostles in the Upper Room. Where he does the lowest servant service one can imagine, washing the feet of others. The disciples do not come to him to study the Torah, to discuss and interpret with one another, but he himself is the center of this school, he himself is the law in person. He gives the disciples on the Mount of Beatitudes the new law, just as God gave the Torah to Moses on Sinai. If Jesus himself is in the middle of his circle of disciples, then of course the network of relationships among the people who have him in the middle also changes.

The master-student relationship changes in fellowship with Jesus. But family ties also change in the environment of Jesus. First of all, Jesus' own family must experience this very bitterly. Mark tells us that the relatives of Jesus came down to Capernaum to take him home to Nazareth, back to the family, because they said: He has gone mad (cf. Mk 3:21). You want to force him back. There is a family egoism, a clan spirit, which is incompatible with following Jesus. The Jesus family tried a second time, they were a little more careful, they come again, the house is full of people, Jesus inside, many people with him. Then one reports to him: "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside looking for you" (Mk 3:32). One would expect Jesus to get up immediately and go out and greet his family. His reaction was completely different. "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" he asks. Then he points to the people who are around him and says: "Whoever does the will of my father is brother, sister, mother to me" - not the call of blood, not clandestinely, not family pride, but a new one Family. Following Jesus is something different than an employment contract, a partnership, a "joint mission", so to speak, you do a little mission together and then part again. No, following Jesus creates a new bond, a new community, you become a member of the family of Jesus. We become his siblings, yes, his mother. At the same time, however, those accepted into the family must be ready to break away from their biological family, if necessary in conflict, with divisions and enmity. "Jesus therefore demands of his disciples the decisive turning away from their own family ... Instead of their family ... there is communion with Jesus ... The communion of the disciple with Jesus is Community of fate. It goes so far that the disciple must be ready to suffer the same thing as Jesus - if necessary even persecution or execution "(Gerhard Lohfink, Wie hat Jesus Gemeinde wanted ?, Freiburg 1993, p. 44; cf. Friedrich Bechina, Die Kirche als "Family of God", Analecta Gregoriana 272, Rome 1998, p. 349) The best thing that can happen is when your own family grows into the family of Jesus. This can often be a painful process that can only be achieved through the Conversion takes place where the carnal, the natural family ties become something new through faith. Christ transforms them, transforms them into friendship, in relation to his family, to what it is supposed to be from the Creator. Then that comes into being deep security that the family of Jesus should give us, with all the uncertainty of the path of discipleship. When Jesus says, "One is your master, you are all brothers" (Mt 23: 8), then this shows this new relationship that is through the succession between should arise for us. We will come back to the way of life of this new family of God: How does Jesus shape people into this new community, into this new togetherness that is so alien to the world?


Are We All Called to Discipleship? Is Being a Christian Disciple? The answer is not that easy. In the New Testament we find places where it is clearly stated that we are all called to be disciples. So says St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians: "Faithful is God, through whom you were called to communion with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1: 9). Or: "No different from what the Lord has assigned him, and as God has called him, everyone should live" (1 Cor 7:17). So all have a call to fellowship with Christ, but the call can be very different. In the Bread Discourse in the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus says, quoting Isaiah (54:13); "And all will be disciples of God" (Jn 6:15).

Yes, there is no question about it: we are all called to attend the school of Jesus. We are all called to holiness. That is the core teaching of Vatican II. The central fifth chapter of the church constitution, Lumen Gentium, deals with the "general vocation to holiness in the church". "Be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" is a key sentence of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:48).

The council says: "It is clear to everyone that all believers in Christ of all rank or status are called to the fullness of Christian life and to perfect love" (Lumen Gentium 40). All are called to holiness. No stand excludes it. If a Pope is canonized, it is not because he was Pope, but because he lived his Christianity in an exemplary manner. In this he has no advantage over any other Christian. The way to holiness is open to all. But the callings are different, the ways of holiness are different for each according to the call each has received.

Again, are all called to become disciples of Jesus? The question was moving through the centuries. Did the radical calling words of Jesus apply to all or only to some specially called? To whom does the word of Jesus refer: "The harvest is great, but there are few workers. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38)? It is popular with intercessions for priestly and religious professions. That is not unjustified, but it is not all. One thing is well felt here: to be sent into the harvest of the Lord is a special calling that is to be requested of the Lord. Not all are called and sent into this task. Jesus' word presupposes that there are others who are not called to do so but should ask that the Lord send enough harvest workers.

The Gospels show us: "Jesus does not call everyone to follow him" (G. Lohfink, How did Jesus want the community ?, p. 206). He calls everyone to repent: "Repent and believe in the good news" (Mk 1:15), he does not call everyone to follow directly. He calls the customs officer Levi - Matthäus away from the customs office: "Follow me!" (Mk 2.14). Jesus does not call for discipleship to Zacchaeus, another tax collector in Jericho. He stays in his job. But he was converted. His life has become new, his profession has remained the same (cf. Lk 19: 1-10). There is also this difference with women. Luke reports: "In the following time Jesus went from town to town and village to village preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and the twelve were with him, as well as women whom he had healed of evil spirits and diseases: Mary of Magdala, from which seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuzas, an official of Herod; Susanna and many others. They all served them [Jesus and the disciples] with what they owned "(Lk 8: 1-3) . These women moved with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, which was certainly rather unusual behavior at the time. They did not run away at the crucifixion of Jesus: "But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, saw everything from afar" (Lk 23:49). These women are present at the burial and come to the grave on the morning of the day after next with the ointments and balm that they had prepared (cf. Lk 23: 55-24: 1).

Are these women "disciples" in a special way? In any case, there are others who are very close to Jesus, are friends with him, but do not follow him on his way, have no special mission. I am thinking of Jesus' friends in Bethany, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, these brothers and sisters, in whose house Jesus felt welcome and whom he especially loved.

Gerhard Lohfink concludes: "Jesus does not call all of Israel into discipleship. In addition to the disciples, there is a broad spectrum of people who open themselves to the gospel of Jesus and take his call to repentance seriously, but do not immediately follow him of themselves three groups: the circle of the twelve, which in the Gospels is already equated with the 'apostles' - the circle of disciples, which is significantly larger, but also follows Jesus directly - and finally the people, insofar as it is the message Jesus receives positively "(How did Jesus want church ?, p. 209).

Apostles - disciples - people: Isn't that another distinction that leads to "floor thinking"? There is a danger of seeing the "called" there, the "people", here those who follow the path, there those who give themselves up with the world. Doesn't the common vocation of all Christians and of all the baptized get lost? This danger has always existed and is still there today. But it disappears as soon as we look again at the core of Jesus' message. Not all are called to the same form of discipleship, but all are called to repentance. The Sermon on the Mount with its truly radical words applies to everyone, regardless of whether they are "settled" or "migrating" Christians, "disciples" or "people". The Sermon on the Mount demands that we refrain not only from doing the wrong thing, but from every angry word against our fellow believers (Mt 5:22). It demands "to take the marriage of another (and of course your own) so seriously that one does not even look at a strange woman covetously (Mt 5: 29f)". It demands "that there is no longer any veiling or distortion of language, but only absolute uniqueness (Mt 5:37), and that one gives to everyone who asks one for something" (Mt 5:42), (G. Lohfink , How did Jesus want church ?, 212).

That goes for all Christians. There is no two-level ethos, a more perfect way of life for the apostles and disciples, and a less perfect way of life for the rest of God's people. Both forms of life complement each other. That was already the case in the early Church and is basically no different today: the disciples who are on the move need the "houses" that open to them, the families that accept and support them. But in both forms of life it is about a "total surrender": whether disciples in the express discipleship - or belong to the "family of Jesus", total surrender consists in doing the will of God in everyday life. The common vocation to holiness is always in magis, in the "more" of love, in the ever greater devotion.

Jesus loves to make this "more" clear to people who do not even know him. This happens most poignantly when Jesus points out to his disciples the poor widow in the temple who knows nothing about it. She only threw two copper coins into the temple treasure, much less than the others. But they all just gave something of their abundance. She, on the other hand, literally everything she had to live with: "her whole life". Therefore, so says Jesus, "more given as all "(Mk 12: 41-44).

Does being a Christian mean being a disciple of Jesus? That was our initial question. If this refers to the following of the apostles and the disciples who were on the way with Jesus, then not all who believe in Christ are also called into this way of life. But all are called to repentance and to the radicalism of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus himself is the teacher of this path. To look at him, to live in his community, is the common school of life for all who believe in him.

But those who have received the gift, the grace of faith, should finally be reminded of the Gospel of Christ the King's Sunday: At the Last Judgment, the righteous did not even know that they had met Christ, that they had served God, as did they Damned. They have simply seen or overlooked the neighbor in need; they helped or failed to help (cf. Mt 25: 31-46). We are all invited to Jesus' school of life. One of the most important lessons in this never-ending school is to be amazed and grateful to see that others are much further along in this than we are. Sometimes also those who do not even know that they are in this school of life and do not know how good their "learning success" is!