May 2008 - Vol. 19

Brecon Beacons, Wales by Don Schwager 
Questions at the Crossroads

How are we doing on our journey with Jesus?

by Menchie Rojas

Jesus taught about discipleship in many different ways. Oftentimes, he spoke about it in relation to the particular situation he and his disciples found themselves in. He used direct sayings, illustrations and parables to show what it really meant to follow him. One of the most effective ways of discipling was to engage them in conversation. Although he already knew their thoughts, he would dialogue with them for an exchange of ideas. Those conversations, which usually began with asking a question, gave Jesus opportunities to correct their perceptions and to deepen what they already knew. But for the disciples, those were the times of growing in their self-knowledge as followers who still had a long way to go.

Assessing where we are
Several years ago, I was asked to give a retreat in Samphran, Thailand to seminarians of the Redemptorist order of Catholic priests on the topic discipleship. The intent was to enable those young men to enter into a personal conversation with Jesus regarding their vocation. I named that three-day retreat “Questions at the Crossroads,” drawing from the Gospels’ key questions Jesus asked his disciples at the various stages of their walk with him. Those questions have great potential for a meaningful assessment of where we are and how we in the Sword of the Spirit are doing in our spiritual journey in accord with our calling to be a community of disciples on mission.

This article is intended to help us listen to the Lord who wants to converse with us about our relationship with him. I hope the questions that are asked by Jesus will lead us in setting the course toward maturing discipleship.


1. What are you looking for? (John 1:35-39)
Discipleship is all about following the One in whom we trust and who can satisfy our every longing or aspiration in life. Every disciple owns a “call story” or an initial encounter with the Lord where he or she experienced a fascination with the person of Jesus.

The story of the call of the first disciples of Jesus in the Gospel of John is different from the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). In John's Gospel we learn that the first two disciples of Jesus were actually John the Baptist's own followers. Their action of following the Lord was the result of the Baptizer's personal testimony about Jesus’ greatness. On the basis of what they heard from a credible witness, they began to follow the Lord.

Turning to these two disciples, Jesus spoke his first dialogue in this Gospel in the form of a question, “What are you looking for” (v.38). He asked them a personal question first before inviting them over. The Searcher already knew what was in their hearts but he wanted to draw the answer from their own mouths. Jesus took the initiative to ask them at the beginning of their journey as followers this most important question.

Many bible commentaries affirm the deep significance of the question. It seemed to be the most appropriate one to ask at the initial stage. The heart of the question is motivational. In effect, the question means:

What do you really want from me?
What is your motive in following me?
What are you seeking out of life?
What is it that you are longing for and hoping to receive from me?

In other words, Jesus is asking about expectations and motivations. He challenged the two seekers to take responsibility for the direction of their search. Their expectations and motives needed to be clear even to their own selves.

The two disciples, surprisingly, answered the question with a counter-question,
“Rabbi, where are you staying?” By this they seemed to mean that they were searching for a teacher who could teach them the way to God. They wanted to come to Jesus at close range. The question expressed their interest in his person. It wasn’t the street address that they needed. They desired to be with Jesus and to know more about his way of life. Seeing the core of their question, Jesus then issued a personal invitation to the first two seekers, “Come, and you will see” (v.39). Discipleship involves personal freedom to come after the Master and see him through faith. The
two disciples must have gladly accepted his invitation and stayed with him till the next day. The next episode showed the two men witnessing to two others what they had seen and understood. In Jesus they had found what they were looking for.

Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” remains a significant question that Christ puts to everyone who follows him. Let us reflect back on our initial adult encounter with the Lord.

  • What really fascinated us about the Lord at that time?
  • What drove us to seek the Lord?
  • What made us decide to follow him more seriously or more decisively?
  • What was it that we were looking for at that time? 
    • Wisdom?
    • Solution to our problems?
    • Guidance and direction?
    • Love and affirmation?
    • Meaning?
    • Peace of mind?
Whatever our answer at that time may have been, the Lord Jesus used it as a key for him to enter our lives and for us to enter into “where he lives.”

If the Lord were to ask us the same question now, circa 2008, what answers would we give him. Will he find us still looking for the same things in life as before? Or will we give him a different answer this time?

2. Who are my mother and my brothers? (Mark 3:31-35)
Discipleship has a personal cost. One of the areas in our lives that it challenges is the way we value our relationships, especially our own family. Discipleship means giving one's absolute loyalty to Jesus, a love and commitment that goes beyond one's love for father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and yes, even for one's own self (Luke 14:26-27). This is not to say that there is no place for commitment to one's family in the life of discipleship. What Jesus wants is a radical reorientation of our priorities and loyalties. It is not “family first.”

I don't doubt that Jesus loved his parents and relatives. However, he seemed to be detached from them. From his youth, he already showed signs that he was not going to take the normal route of things, especially for the career that he would pursue.

His ultimate passion was not building homes and furniture. He gave them a hint that it was the Father's business that would eventually consume him (Luke 2:49). Definitely not carpentry but the work of the kingdom would be the focus of his life.

His immediate family didn't really understand the lifestyle that he chose in his adult years. He triggered a crisis among them, to a point that they thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21).On one occasion while he was preaching, his own mother and kinsmen stood outside and called him. The people seated around him made a remark to Jesus about their presence. Jesus responded by asking those present with him this question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 

Jesus did not ask the audience for an answer. It was meant to be a question introducing a new teaching about the family. Pointing to all the disciples gathered there Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-34).

What is the significance of Jesus' question and his own answer to it? First of all, Jesus’ pronouncement was very disturbing. He even risked slighting his own mother with this remark. But we all know that Mary, in reality, was a quintessential example of a person who let God's will be done in her life (Luke 1:38).

Jesus was actually making a strong point on the meaning of true family. He turned the whole family system, which is based on blood relations, upside down. He redefined the factors that constitute true family relationships. Jesus extended his family circle beyond biological boundaries and embraced all the doers of God's will as his true kinsmen in spirit and in truth. The disciples, then, became the real and new family of Jesus.

Family affinity is born out of common identification with Jesus and the actual obedience to all that God requires. Therefore in the kingdom of God it is not the relationship by blood that takes precedence but the spiritual relationship that comes from following Jesus. That’s our true family. Before we used to say, “Blood is thicker than water.” Now we can say, “Water (and Spirit baptism into Christ) is thicker than blood.”

To be disciples, then, is to be continually asked by the Lord to re-examine our over-attachment to our families and assess our failure to catch his vision to form a new family of disciples and have a higher loyalty to them.

If the Lord were to us today, “Who are your mother and your brothers and sisters?” what would our response be? What is the real benchmark of our being a new family in the Lord in this community? Have we taken seriously the mandate “Love one another”? Can we point to one another and confidently say, “Here are my brothers, my sisters, my mother and my father?”

We need to listen to him with all honesty and humility, and where we find ourselves lacking, ask him for help and take steps to change.

[Menchie Rojas is a senior woman leader of Ligaya ng Panginoon Community in Manila, Philippines and a member of the Asian Region Mission Team of the Sword of the Spirit.] 

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