A Lent reflection on discipleship from Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Unsplash/Alicia Quan

All through Holy Week, Jesus is held before us, lifted up for all to see. So let us keep in mind, as a refrain, these words of our Lord: 'I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself' (John 12.32).

Jesus is lifted up before us, first on to a donkey and then, at the end of his journey, on to a cross.
On his entry into Jerusalem, we see him heralded, praised, welcomed and acclaimed by his disciples and the crowd. We learn from these events about discipleship, about what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.

The first thing we learn is that the crowds do not understand very much about Jesus or what it means to follow him. We recognize, too, how much we have to learn, to absorb each day about the true depth and implications of being a disciple.

So we take our lesson from the words of Isaiah: 'Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught' (Isaiah 50.4). This is what we are to do: to start each day by giving our full attention to the Lord, by listening deeply for his presence and his prompts for us and by offering him our first thoughts and prayers.

The second lesson we learn is how easy it is for discipleship to be put aside. Disciples, we learn, are fickle, easily distracted. They fall asleep out of weariness; they erupt into arguments and jealousy; Judas betrays Jesus to his face; Peter denies he has ever known him.

This is our story too. Sometimes our discipleship is only skin deep. We too get weary with the whole enterprise; we too lapse into argument about who is to do what; we too hide our faith for convenience or comfort's sake.

Yet there are pictures here of great faithfulness too: Joseph of Arimathea comes in all hesitancy and fear to claim the body of Jesus; the women return to care for his body, anointing it with oil and with their love.

That is how we, too, try to be.

As we face these truths of our discipleship, we need not be afraid, either of our failures or of our Lord. As the Lord is held before us, whether on a donkey or on the cross, he is the face of the Father's mercy.

Within the embrace of this mercy we can truly renew and deepen our discipleship, step by step becoming true friends of Jesus.

There is for us in the gospel a portrait of mercy which is so helpful. It is focused on Simon Peter and his conversation with Jesus. Simon is told by Jesus that he will be sifted 'like wheat' (Luke 22.31). Yes, Simon will be tested by all that is about to happen, and we know that Simon will deny all knowledge of Jesus.

We too let go of the Lord when tested or sorely tried by circumstances. We too let go of him and turn to other sources of hope. But here we must listen to the next words of Jesus. He says to Simon, 'I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail' (Luke 22.32).

Yes, this applies to us too. Jesus says to each one of us, especially at the moments we find most difficult, 'I have prayed for you, Vincent, Helen, Robert, Marie, Peter . . . that your faith may not fail.' Then, Jesus says to Simon, 'And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers' (Luke 22.32).

God's mercy is given not only to forgive and comfort us, but also to set us more fully on the road of service towards one another. Here is the true purpose of the loving mercy of God.

Loving God, may we embrace your mercy, the gift of him who is lifted up before us, that we may see and follow him
more closely, day by day. Amen.

From The Glory of the Cross: A journey through Holy Week and Easter by Cardinal Vincent Nichols and published by SPCK priced £9.99.