‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Now, that’s an attention getter!
It was for me in my sophomore year
in the class called Christian Faith and Life
where we were introduced to the book
“The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor,
theologian, anti-Nazi dissident,
and key founding member of the Confessing Church.
His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world
have become widely influential,
and his book The Cost of Discipleship
is described as a modern classic.
For much of Christian history,
being identified as a “disciple of Jesus”
has been considered high praise.
The disciples, after all,
were the handpicked group of followers who
lived, learned, and labored alongside Jesus.
They were commissioned to heal the sick,
and proclaim the Good News of
God in Christ to the ends of the earth.
But if we listen closely,
we can’t help but notice
that Scripture does not always portray the disciples
with such glamor and reverence.
Consider today’s reading:
For the second time in Mark’s Gospel,
Jesus takes the disciples aside
to teach them that he will soon be
given over to human hands
and will suffer, die, and rise again.
And for the second time, the disciples don’t get it.
In fact, Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus
trying to teach the disciples this crucial lesson
on three different occasions,
…and each and every time,
the disciples don’t get it.
Instead, they’re concerned with things like
which one of them is the greatest and
what the folks in town thought about them
and what they were going to eat for lunch.
But what is most perplexing of all
is the fact that, not only do the disciples fail to
understand Jesus’ teaching about his suffering,
death, and resurrection…
…but they’re also too afraid to ask Jesus any questions about it!
And as maddening as the disciples’ failure to understand
or even ask questions
with the hope of understanding may sound to us,
…how often are we guilty of precisely the same thing?
How often are we afraid to ask a question
because we think we should know the answer,
or even because we’re afraid of the answer?
After all, if knowledge is power, then ignorance is weakness.
Perhaps the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus a question
because they should have been paying better attention.
Or, maybe they were afraid to ask
because Jesus would think they were ignorant.
Or maybe, just maybe,
they were afraid to ask Jesus a question because
somewhere deep down,
they already knew the answer.
“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands,
and they will kill him,
and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
Mark, with his characteristic briskness and brevity,
doesn’t reveal the expressions on the disciples’ faces
when they heard Jesus utter these words.
He doesn’t tell us about the gasps and
the horrified stares and the hard gulps.
And he says nothing about the heavy hush
that surely descended upon the disciples.
All Mark says is, “They were afraid…”
And although Mark is also silent as to why the disciples were afraid,
we can surmise that
they feared for the fate of their friend and leader.
Each and every one of them
had left their families and their livelihoods
to take an enormous risk in following Jesus.
And so, hearing that he expects to be arrested and killed—
never mind the bit about rising from the dead—
all comes as quite a shock.
But, what if the disciples were afraid for another reason as well?
What if, along with their fear about
what would become of Jesus,
they were also afraid of what would happen to them?
After all, if Jesus was arrested and killed,
surely his closest associates
would come under scrutiny as well.
Perhaps the thing that is at the root of the disciples’ fear
is the fact that they were beginning to understand,
even just a little,
of what the true cost of discipleship is.
In a world where wealth is good
but more wealth is better;
where “consumerism is king”;
and where our worth is measured by
what we have rather than what we give,
…the cost of discipleship is hard news
that many would prefer not to hear.
But it is also the Good News that we so desperately need to hear!
In 2015, Episcopalians from around the world
gathered near Hayneville, Alabama
to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom
of Jonathan Daniels
…who was killed during
the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1965.
Daniels’ death came as a result of
his pushing an African-American teenager
named Ruby Sales out of harm’s way
when the two walked into a corner store
to buy a soft drink,
…only to be met by an irate man pointing a loaded shotgun at them.
The cost of discipleship was, for Jonathan Daniels, his very life.
And as the disciples began to
process their fear about what Jesus was teaching them,
perhaps they were beginning to realize
the heavy cost that discipleship would place
on their own lives.
These are, of course, extreme cases,
but they make plain the fact that
we cannot confess the faith of Christ crucified and risen
without coming to terms with
the reality that discipleship places a claim on us—
it costs us something.
For some of us, it may cost us what is popular.
For others, it may cost us our comfort zones.
And for still others, it may even cost us a friend.
Of course, there is an easier way.
We could simply listen to Jesus’ hard teaching
about suffering and death and resurrection
and continue on without asking any questions—
as if nothing had ever happened.
But deep down in our bones,
this path will leave us wanting.
It’ll leave us to preach a half-hearted and
that has more to do with being comfortable and
complacent than with the cross of Christ.
Bonhoeffer would tell us that
“Every moment and every situation
challenges us to action and to obedience.
We have literally no time to sit down
and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not.
We must get into action and obey—
we must behave like a neighbor to him.”
No, Jesus and his disciple Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
taught us too,
that the path of discipleship is hard.
But in the end, we discover
that this is the path that leads to resurrection