Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28.19)
Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10.5,6)
At the very end of Matthew’s gospel we read about the resurrected Lord sending out his disciples, charging them to go into the far reaches of the world, inviting them to tell everyone about the great hope now extended to all peoples. Yet at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as he calls the twelve apostles and gathers them together, he tells them to stay close to home and not tell outsiders about this new mission. The whole ministry of Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection – falls within these two bookends: stay close to home; go ye into the world. What does that mean for us?
A profound and life-giving spiritual principle is that we should always begin with ourselves before we turn our attention to the issues others should face. Become healthy yourself, we learn, before you try to heal someone else. You can only offer what you have come to know yourself. Take care of yourself first, then take care of others. In some ways that almost sounds self-centered and, of course, we are called by Christ to be generous and reach out to our neighbors and enemies. But to be truly generous we must first find our own strength, hope, and wisdom before we can offer that to someone else.
It’s very easy in life to work out our own issues on other people. Perhaps you know someone who is quick to point out the speck in your eye while ignoring the log in his own eye. Or maybe you’ve been at that place yourself where you have much advice to offer others but weren’t really living into your own journey very well. Before we can move outside ourselves, we must enter deeply into our spiritual journey and spend time there. Some folks seem to have learned just enough to be dangerous to others, zealously projecting onto others what they really should be attending in their own lives.
Mature folks of spiritual wisdom are able to share effectively the strength and hope they have discovered but they usually seem to share that as their own experience while allowing us to have ours. They seem to trust that we will be led to learn appropriate lessons at appropriate times rather than assuming we need to learn something from them in particular. They don’t teach us so much as they allow the healthy space in which we will learn from God.
We are drawn to wise, mature people of faith. We go to them for spiritual friendship and find direction from their witness. Unfortunately many of those who seem to press upon us with advice don’t really have much depth to offer us. There’s a real difference between those who have found wisdom and truth and those who are still seeking so desperately for it that their anxiety pours into our lives.
As we start with ourselves, we gain a depth of spirit that can only come from God. And then God uses us to spread his good news of salvation. Draw from that well of life each day. Start with yourself so that God can form in you a good disciple.
Robert Wisnewski, Jr.