Scattered On The Hillside: Some Thoughts on Discipleship, Community, and Blogging

One of the most challenging aspects of moving away from Boston and beginning my new life in Montana was leaving my community behind. After ten years in that city, I had formed a tight friendship network of fellow scholars and ministers. But, as all of us knew, at some point, our life together would have to change. Each of our vocations required us to share the gifts we had been given with the people of God. What we had been learning and studying together would make little sense if we only stayed in our tight-knit groups of friends. But this reality did not make leaving any easier.

The familiar story of the feeding of the multitude from Luke’s gospel that we heard yesterday provides some important insights into this aspect of discipleship. This story not only tells us about Jesus’ compassionate desire and ability to feed and nourish us, it also offers us important insights into Christian discipleship. We can see this by paying attention to what comes before this famous scene on the deserted hillside. At the beginning of Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus empowers the twelve to go out and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God as well as heal those in need of healing. They later return and gather to share what they have seen and done. Jesus, knowing how tired they must be, honors their need for fellowship and rejuvenation and they withdraw from the crowds.

But the crowds find them and Jesus cannot ignore their needs. He proceeds to heal the people and proclaim the Kingdom of God. We can understand, then, why at the end of the day the disciples insist that he sends the crowds away. The disciples are tired; they are hungry; they are spent. They are looking forward to a little down time with Jesus and with one another. Yet this is not the time, Jesus tells them. It is time to feed the crowd. Depleted of provisions and energy, the disciples wonder where this food (and strength!) will come from. In spite of their doubts, they offer what little they have. Jesus takes it, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. They, in turn, feed the crowd. They each go to those groups of fifty scattered over the hillside, and they share what has been given to them. And all are satisfied—including the twelve.

Later this week theologians will gather together at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO to attend the annual College Theology Society convention. For many of us—especially at the end of the academic year–this conference and others like it have become important opportunities to celebrate and rejuvenate with long-lost colleagues. This year I will have the pleasure of being part of a panel discussion on the role and art of theological blogging and its role in public discourse.

Blogging—as a few of us have reflected on in previous posts—has become an important form of ministry today. Blogs like Daily Theology, Catholic Moral Theology, Raids Against the Color Line, Women in Theology, Political Theology, The Jesuit Post, Dating God, There Will Be Bread, and many others provide important spaces for common reflection and critical dialogue. Blogging therefore offers some insights into Christian discipleship. I have found my own experience as a contributor to Daily Theology has both nourished me and helped me nourish others. It has provided an ever-widening circle of friends and colleagues who provide mutual challenge and support even from great distances. It has also given me an opportunity to grow in and share my vocation as a theologian and as a disciple. Scattered over our own hillsides, we are able to share with and sustain one another in our mutual commitment to serve the people of God.

But as with any form of ministry, blogs and the like can also perpetuate hate and division. The story of the feeding of the multitude reminds us that authentic discipleship requires sharing—not shaming, gathering—not dividing, and feeding—not hoarding. And this is especially important when we consider how ministry and evangelization occur on the Internet and social media. For just as blogs and other online communities can (and should!) create lasting and life-giving connections between people, they can also easily become spaces that encourage isolation and alienation.

Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel tells us that Christian discipleship is constant movement of going out to proclaim and gathering together to rejuvenate. Most importantly, Luke reminds all of us that discipleship is about sharing what God provides. The gifts we share with others are just that: gifts. Therefore, we must share whatever it is we have to offer with humility, compassion, and mercy. Like the disciples on the hillside, all of us need to be fed and all of us are called to feed others. My experience writing for and reading Daily Theology has taught me that blogs and social networking, podcasts and online forums, communities, and scholarship can provide avenues that help us nourish and be nourished. And as with any form of ministry, the fruits of our labor will be judged on how faithful we are to Jesus’ command to serve one another with love and mercy.

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