Discipleship and the Cross - Pt 2
As I reflected in the earlier article:
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.
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Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the "must" of suffering applies to his disciples no less that to himself.
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. . . 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."
It is here that I wish to pause and meditate. What is our personal cross that we must take up if we should follow Him? What is the cross? It is, to my mind, and as I think Bonhoeffer rightly points out, not the bearing of temptation, or even simply unjust treatment for the sake of the gospels. It is to bear the sins of another (to the extent we are tasked to do so - our Lord has ultimately borne it for all). It is to bear a shame to our condemnation, or to bear with another sinning against us in person (whether by wrongful violence against our person), or to bear the consequences of others' sins rippling out into our lives, even if not directed against us, for the sake of the Gospel. Not for our own ascetic virtue, our patience, or our glory. If we were receiving some sort of adulation for our suffering, I should be very wary of it being for the sake of Christ.
One cannot, then, choose your cross, nor is this a bearing of sins like a 'martyr' as that word has come to mean in modern parlance ("Oh, don't be a martyr!"). It is to bear it as a true martyr - a witness - to the Gospel of Christ. And the witness may not be in the visible bearing of the cross, but in the gifts given by the Spirit and the fruit that one bears in other ways. It means being scarred and not being healed of the wounds in a conventional sense, but being glorified and transformed through those wounds in the transformative process of becoming partakers in the life of Christ (note that Jesus retains the marks of his cross, and in Revelation we see the lamb slain since the foundation of the world). The blind man saw and the lame walked, but to what end? To be scorned and ridiculed by the leaders of the community - the "eminent men" of their time and place, the wise of their world.
Thus, I don't think the bearing of the cross is as much about the bearing of suffering and condemnation for my own sins, for such would be (as the good thief points out) simply justice. It is not merely about suffering under temptations and resisting though it feel to cost us dear (this is obedience and discipline), though undoubtedly this is part and parcel of the Christian life. I think primarily the cross the Christian is to bear is the bearing of sins and the shame of others willingly and quietly, for the sake of Christ and in imitation of Him. In this way we crucify that which is in us which is prideful, selfish, and of the world. We die to self and live only to Christ.
Most of the suffering in my life is self-wrought and fairly deserved. Where it is not deserved, as a good American I quickly want to cry "unfair!" But it is as this moment that perhaps I should be looking to see a cross flung down in my path to pick up and bear. Perhaps it is my lot this day to bear the false accusation of another, in love, for Christ's sake. Perhaps it is my lot this day to bear hatred from another in humble silence, for Christ's sake. Perhaps it is my lot to be ridiculed unjustly, for Christ's sake. Perhaps it is my lot this day to bear being cheated by another, for Christ's sake. Perhaps there is even a cross which has been flung down before that I have refused to take up, unwilling to bear the burden because I have been unwilling to forgive "in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share" as Bonhoeffer suggests.
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. - St. Paul to the Galatians, 6:2
And he said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. - Gospel According to St. Luke, 9:23