Cats…you either love them or hate them. I have yet to find a person who has no opinion on our feline companions or nemesis (whichever you prefer) but the scientific name for our furry friend is Felis Catus. Here are some other entertaining truths…cats can run around 30 miles per hour, but only for a short distance. A house cat can beat superstar runner Usain Bolt in the 200 meter dash. Cats can jump five times their height. A house cat is genetically 95.6% tiger. If you are a cat owner this alarming fact will confirm many of your unvoiced fears; your cat is most likely plotting your death. A cat’s tongue contains a number of backward facing hooks known as filiform papillae; these barb wire tongues can literally lick bones clean. Each cat’s nose is unique, much like human fingerprints. Meowing is a behavior cats developed to communicate with humans, and they can have up to 100 different vocalizations. There are about 88 million pet cats in the United States, which makes them the most popular pet in the country.
I give you all this information as a segue into my personal story on how I acquired my cats and how I relate the care I’ve given to them as a metaphor of discipleship.
Around four years ago, my son discovered a feral cat and two of her kittens living in a sump next to our home. A 12-foot wall separated us from the cats so we couldn’t get a closer look at them. I have never been a cat person but for some reason this little family grabbed a hold of my heart and I decided I would begin to feed them. Because of the 12-foot wall separation I had to develop a method of food delivery and so I grabbed two of my husband’s ladders and created a simple pully system using string and disposable containers. Twice a day for three months I would bring them fresh water and food. The first day they were nowhere to be found but whenever I would leave and return a few hours later, the food was gone. Eventually they became familiar with their feeding schedule and I would catch momma cat off in the distance suspiciously watching my every move. Then one day I found her waiting at the bottom of the wall. As soon as I approached, she hissed and ran away, but only far enough to feel safe. I found my feline family early in summer but winter was quickly approaching and I feared for their safety. I also was concerned with having an unfixed female cat living next to my house and the colony that would soon ensue if no one intervened. One night when I heard the wail of a cat, I knew mating season was here and I needed to develop a plan of rescue. I went to the store and bought two animal traps.
My husband and I used the ladders to work our way down the 12-foot wall and leave the traps near the area the cats were accustom to being fed. On the first night I caught two cats, the next night I caught the final kitten. I called my vet, had them checked, and got all their shots. I brought them home and began the slow process of building trust. They did not meow; they hissed and hid whenever I came close. I kept them in a large cage for about two weeks, eventually I opened the door to the cage and they lived in my bathroom for a while, then my room, and now they rule the upstairs part of my home. Correction, the home they allow me and my family to reside in. Momma cat went from hissing and bolting whenever she saw me to purrs and belly rolls hoping for some affection. Four years and counting her kittens are slowing beginning to trust me and to meow when they see me. I hope as I shared this story you have caught on as to how I relate it to discipleship. But if not, allow me to explain. From a distance I saw this little family could use some help, encouragement and support. I never cared for feral cats before but I was determined to take one day at a time and offer what I had. I sacrificed my time to develop a feeding schedule and I spoke to them whenever I was near. Once I caught them and brought them home, I got them familiar with my presence, and eventually over years, I earned their trust. The first year was rough. Sometimes if I got too close, they would scratch me. It was painful, but I learned that I just needed to make slower movements around them. I spent a lot of time with them. And now most of them follow me around and carefully observe every move I make, eager for my attention. Or they completely ignore me…remember, they’re cats. In the same way discipleship takes patience…it isn’t a method or a program, it’s a relationship built over time. Discipleship means you accept someone just as they are and help them on their journey toward growth. Trust is built as time is spent caring for the other person, and mending their wounds, nursing them with the Word of God. It happens through the investment of one life into another. And all it requires is two people living by grace, trusting in the gospel, and committed to following Jesus. This is how the kingdom grows from small beginnings to global impact. Discipleship takes time, it takes grit, and yes, sometimes it even hurts. Discipleship takes leaning in, stepping out, and eventually letting go.
Romans 12:9-13, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer the great author and theologian wrote this, “I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us recedes, and the clear and pure will of Jesus Christ and His work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, and through Christ we have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.”
Bonhoeffer said this with conviction, “Life together is better.” Paul said this with compassion, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us (1 Thessalonians 2:8).”
And with the final words on this subject, Christ said this as a commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).