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The Real Disciples of Jesus

‘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,

baptize sinners,

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 because we’re afraid our question is stupid,

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.

Jesus said,

“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

watered-down Gospel

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

and life!




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