Here's a story I've told my classes a few times in conjunction
with today's gospel passage. Forgive me if you have heard it before.
I served on the staff of the Jesuit Novitiate in St. Paul, MN for 3 years
back in the late '80's. One of the novices who entered during those
years is the subject of this story. His name was, well, let's call
him Ralph. His name was Ralph. He was a big guy and had played
football in high school. He used to brag about how his coach told him
that he didn't want to learn anything. He already knew it all.
Well, you might guess that this proved true in the novitiate, too.
Ralph knew everything. No one could tell him anything. So, he
never had to learn anything.
Seems to me that's what our gospel is about today. It's about learning.
When Jesus went up the mountain, he saw the crowd, he sat down, and his disciples
came to him. In other words, his disciples "self-selected." They
stepped apart from the crowd and went to Jesus. Each said, in effect,
"I'm ready to learn now." This applies to you and me, too. In
one sense, each time this gospel comes around (or, really, any gospel for
that matter), it's as if we can check our status about being ready to learn.
That's what it means to be a disciple. It means to be disposed to learn.
And, that's what separates the disciple from the crowd. This seems
to be a real act of maturity, going to Jesus and saying, "I'm ready to learn
now." It's a different stance from just going to church.
It could be that sense of having come to the end of what one knows about
God, self, and the universe. It could be that sense of having suffered
enough from life that one's trust in God and neighbor has taken a beating.
Whatever the cause, it's just that step of making oneself available to learn.
Maybe Ralph has gone through enough in life 20 years later that he's ready
to learn. Maybe me. Maybe you. May God make us true disciples.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.