The path of the disciple

We can read Scripture in different ways and for different reasons. Usually the Gospels come to us in chunks that fit the seasons of our Faith. Sometimes, I like to read one of the Gospels right through from beginning to end.

If you haven’t done this, I suggest you try it. It can bring some kind of new understanding, and you may see patterns in your own life.

For many of us, the John gospel is a favourite. I regard it as much loved garment worn since childhood. Unlike other garments, it grows bigger every time I wear it. This year, as countdown to Pentecost, I read it all in one go, and went on to the Acts of the Apostles. In that, I recognised for the first time, the familiar path of discipleship.

The disciples’ path has three stages:


They respond to the call of Jesus and want to follow him. They are strongly attracted to Jesus. There is something about him that is life-changing, but they are still connected to old conditioning. They tend to react from insecurity.

They are bewildered when Jesus talks to a Sanaritan woman (John 4). There is outright fear with a storm at sea (John 6) When Jesus talks about himself as Eucharist, some followers react with disgust and walk away. (John 6) Peter doesn’t understand why Jesus wants to wash his feet. (Johnn 13) Philip wants proof that Jesus is the Son of God. (John 14)

With the benefit of history, we wonder how Jesus put up with their ignorance. But haven’t most of us been in the same situation, fluctuating between head and heart, fear and love? Haven’t we all been learners on this road of discipleship?


The apostles were still seeing Jesus in terms of human power, when he was taken away from them and crucified. He had told them this would happen, but they had invested so much in their image of the ‘Messiah’ that when he was killed, they found themselves empty, helpless with loss. What would become of them?

I believe that we too, have to walk the valley of shadows. It’s as though we are given a honeymoon stage of faith before God picks us up by the ankles, turns us upside down and shakes us empty. Whatever that loss is, it often clears what is unnecessary in our lives, and leaves us feeling empty, vulnerable – and ready to be filled with what is needed for the rest of the journey.


Jesus also told the disciples he would rise again. They didn’t believe that either. When it happened, some didn’t recognize him. This was a new Jesus.

Maybe they remembered what he’d told them about the Spirit of Truth: “…everything that he makes known to you, he will draw from what is mine.” (Jn 16) Maybe they realised Jesus was leading them to a new place of friendship, a closeness that would empower them to take his presence to all nations.

He was preparing them for Pentecost, with every stage of formation connected.

And as it was for the apostles, so it is for us.

On the disciples’ path, Pentecost is Jesus calling us to be his holy bread –  blessed, broken and given out to a hungry world.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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