Monday, September 5, 2016
When we Realize Discipleship is not Easy
Luke 14:25-27 (NRSV): Discipleship
Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
As a man who desperately loves his family, this used to be one of the toughest passages in Scripture for me. How can Jesus ask me to hate my wife and children and even my own life? Would Christ really ask me to choose him and abandon them? Upon prayer and discerning the intended hyperbole in Jesus’ words, the true meaning of the text comes alive. As a father and husband, I must honor Jesus’ desire that he be at the core of those relationships. He doesn’t ask us to abandon our families, but he does ask for a costly change in our way of doing family. Jesus asks for our discipleship in all we do and are; he desires to be at the foundation and pith of our lives.
In front of a large, pressing crowd, Jesus lays out the conditions of discipleship. The NRSV translation reads, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate . . .” But the GNT translation, which I prefer here, says, “Unless they love me more than . . .” (26). The second, more dynamic, translation embodies what the first implies: We are to prioritize God in our lives. Jesus indicates that he wants to be the center and focus of our lives, the primary purpose over all things -- yes, even family and ourselves. Does this mean we must ignore, despise, and even hate our families because we are in Christ? Absolutely not. But it means that our role in the family must revolve around Jesus. Everything we are and all we do should be done with Jesus in mind, doing our best to follow his way. This sometimes means we will “carry the cross” of rejection and disapproval of others (27). People will question why we are so “Christian,” and, in effect, try to influence us to make moral/ethical exceptions. People will question (as I myself sometimes question) the purpose and direction of our Christian conscience.
In order to be a devoted disciple, Jesus reminds us to be aware of its costs, the changes that are required in our personal lives.This may mean changing jobs, friends, and even peacefully severing ties with toxic family members. Discipleship is not cheap and easy. It will entail personal commitment, cost, and the cross. Jesus says a true disciple has to be willing to give up everything, even the things that comfort us the most, if they separate us from God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian of the 20th century, wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. In that text, he explores what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer defines both “cheap” grace and “costly” grace in the following excerpts from his book:
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again . . . It is costly because it costs a [person their] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life . . . Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life . . .
Bonhoeffer knew costly grace first hand, for he gave up a cushy teaching position in the United States to go to Nazi Germany to preach the Gospel and attempt to undermine Hitler’s systematic annihilation of God’s image and likeness. Bonhoeffer died at the hands of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer's example is extreme, but it reminds us to do what we can to affect positive change.
What has been cost of discipleship in our lives? Have we been faced with any costly moves in our faith and personal relationships? For it is the moves of great cost that force us to grow in Christ and bear good fruit of love in this world.