Sometimes advice isn’t really worth getting it. In John 15 (the gospel lesson for Sts. Simon & Jude), Jesus outlines for his disciples what life will be like because of their discipleship, and I wonder whether they wanted to hear it. “By the way,” Jesus explained, “if the world hates you, maybe you’ll be comforted in knowing that it hated me first.” Yeah, thanks a lot.
If you were trying to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to those who hadn’t heard it or at least hadn’t accepted a call as his disciples, how would you phrase the message? “Become a disciple of Christ and the world will hate you!” Hmmm, maybe not. And that has me wondering…why did the early Christians accept such a call—especially in a world in which followers of Jesus could have been tortured and killed because of their faith?
Many early Christians considered it a badge of honor to meet their death in Jerusalem just as their Lord had. Part of what it meant to really, really believe in Jesus was to accept a miserable fate in a world that hated them. And that might be true today in some parts of the world, but not many. Not that long ago (mid-19th-century), missionaries would leave home and head overseas expecting never to return. They considered it a badge of honor to give up everything to take the good news to undeveloped places. And that might be true of a few missionaries today, but not many. What happened to discipleship?
As I read Jesus’ advice for his followers and remember Simon and Jude, of whom we know virtually nothing, I feel God calling me to accept the anonymity and obscurity of discipleship. It’s easy to be a Christian in this world, but it’s hard to be a disciple. Discipleship is walking a path that isn’t of this world—so much so that the world might even hate us. That hatred might not be persecution or violence. It might be as simple as walking out of step with the values of society.
I like this quotation about Simon and Jude from americancatholic.org:
As in the case of all the apostles except for Peter, James and John, we are faced with men who are really unknown, and we are struck by the fact that their holiness is simply taken to be a gift of Christ…Holiness does not depend on human merit, culture, personality, effort or achievement. It is entirely God's creation and gift. (full text here)
Being a disciple means accepting a call that isn’t confirmed or validated by the world around us. The only status by which we are judged is the life of him who walked before us.