Saturday, November 21, 2009

Discipleship and the Cross - A Meditation on Bonhoeffer's ideas

In the Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer argues against the "cheap grace" of his day in the Lutheran and other Protestant churches (I suppose) wherein obedience and suffering are not necessary. His life is an object lesson in the reality of a Christian walk, and a stern reminder to us in this country where it seems we tend to want health, wealth, and expect a merciful Lord to simply say: "it's OK, John, I know you didn't 'mean' to do it! Come, good and faithful (wishing) servant, enter in to the Joy of your Lord!"

The first thing Bonhoeffer points out is that there is a call to discipleship which insists on rote obedience. He seems to parse this a little too finely in showing that faith follows on obedience, whereas I think this is perhaps too clinical, too mechanical a view. Nonetheless, I agree that where faith is lacking, obedience is still necessary. In this great discussion of "the Call" he focuses ultimately on the rich young ruler and the insistence of our Lord that nothing come between our Lord and his disciple - every attachment, stratagem, argumentative device, even hiding behind the law as a means to avoid obedience, is to be, as Bonhoeffer says, abandoned in the face of the call. Thus, when riches are thrown up as a roadblock to true obedience to the call of the Eternal Logos speaking face to face to him, Jesus commands the rich ruler to cast them aside and follow him.

Having set the stage, Bonhoeffer then turns to the matter of discipleship. He argues that discipleship is bound up in suffering and rejection:

"Had he only suffered, Jesus might have been applauded as the Messiah. All the sympathy and admiration of the world might have been focused on his passion. It could have been viewed as a tragedy with its own intrinsic value, dignity, and honour. But in the passion Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honour. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men.

. . .

Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the "must" of suffering applies to his disciples no less that to himself.

. . .

The disciple must say to himself the same words Peter said of Christ when he denied him: 'I know not this man.' Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: 'He leads the way, keep close to him.'

He then turns to suffering and rejection:

"To endure the cross is not a tragedy: it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ . . . It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life. It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause or conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. . . Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his alloted share of suffering and rejection. But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and gives them the grace of martyrdom, while others he does not allow to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear. But is the one and the same cross in every case.

. . .

Jesus' summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life. The call of Christ, his baptism, sets the Christian in the middle of the daily arena against sin and the devil. Every day he encounters new temptations, and every day he must suffer anew for Jesus Christ's sake. The wounds and scars he receives in the fray are living tokens of this participation in the cross of his Lord. But there is another kind of suffering and shame which the Christian is not spared. . . the Christian also has to undergo temptation, he too has to bear the sins of others; he too must bear their shame and be driven like a scapegoat from the gate of the city. . . And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share."

I will tell you, friends, that this dying daily is a fearful thing, in my opinion. It is where I fail my Lord constantly.

More to follow . . .

Caveat: Recently mired in recurring besetting sin, I do not offer this meditation by way of preaching; it is a meditation in order to repent, refocus, and move forward. I post it for record, and for only a small hope another may find some reflection wherein the image of the Logos Incarnate may be glimpsed - not because of me, but because of that great cloud of witnesses.


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