In this excerpt from his 1980s talk The Four Gospels, Father Richard reflects on what it means to follow Jesus:
Immediately after the temptation in the desert, Jesus goes out to Galilee and there he begins to preach. His initial preaching is summed up in the verse, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15).
It is a theologically packed statement. What does the word “repent” mean? First of all, it doesn’t mean to beat ourselves up or to feel bad about ourselves. “Repent” (or metanoia in Greek) means to turn around, to change. The first word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth is change—be willing to change.
People who are not willing to change are not willing to turn away from themselves. What we’re in love with usually is not God. We’re in love with our way of thinking, our way of explaining, our way of doing. One of the greatest ways to protect ourselves from God, and to protect ourselves from truth and grace, is simply to buy into some kind of cheap conventionalism and call it tradition.
But the great traditions always call people on a journey of faith to keep changing. There’s no other way this human personality can open up to all that God is asking of us. There’s no way we can open up to all we have to learn, all we have to experience, unless we’re willing to let go of the idols of yesterday and the idols of today. The best protection from the next word of God is the last word of God. We take what we heard from God last year and we build a whole system around it, and then we sit there for the rest of our lives.
Immediately after he begins his preaching, Jesus calls his first four disciples. The way I see people transformed today sure doesn’t happen this quickly. Jesus just says, “Follow me” and immediately they left their nets and followed him (Matthew 4:20). Now, maybe it happened that way; I don’t want to say it didn’t. But what I do want to say is that a true disciple will have that kind of readiness. I’d be more likely to think that this was maybe a process of some conversations over a few weeks. And Jesus said, “Hey, I’m into something. Do you want to be a part of it? Let’s go.”
I hope we realize that we’re all called to discipleship the same way. We hope that the point comes when we’re ready to let go of our nets. What are our nets? Our security systems. Fishing is Simon and Andrew’s economic livelihood, and Jesus says to let go of it. He says, “I’m going to teach you how to fish in a new way, to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). What he means is that he’s going to give them a new vocation. What is God asking us to do? Where is God asking us to go?
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Four Gospels (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 1987). Available as CD and MP3 download.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
Like ever-changing light in snow, we open to surprises on the way of Jesus.
Story from Our Community:
For years I read the Bible and other spiritual books without knowing the true meaning of the word “spirit.” It was just a word until I finally found out that “spirit” is a Latin word for “breath.” As in, simple respiration: breathing in and out. I wish I had known earlier! There are many passages that are completely transformed with this understanding. For example, Jesus’ words “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) I hope everyone who studies Christianity can benefit from this insight. —Bruce C.