People think of various things when they hear about discipleship. In the first century, though, being a disciple meant following a teacher or belonging to a group that followed a sage’s teaching. Most disciples of teachers started in their teens and passed on their teacher’s teachings. (Youth ministers take note: most of Jesus’s disciples were probably teenagers!)

Following Jesus was different in some respects from following most other kinds of teachers, but especially because Jesus was different from most other teachers. (This is clear for those of us who recognize Jesus’s deity.) His disciples grew to learn his compassion, his wisdom, his healing power. Disciples were supposed to imitate their teachers, and Jesus expected his disciples to carry on such work. Although we don’t have the advantage of Jesus’s presence with us physically right now, we have his most important teachings in the Gospels and we also experience his presence by the Holy Spirit. So we can continue to learn from Jesus. In terms of being disciples, we even have advantages that the first disciples initially lacked: for example, we already know, through their later testimony, that the cross was not a failure, that Jesus has risen, and that he is divine. It took them time to understand these matters.

Nevertheless, from the start, following Jesus was never meant to be incidental to one’s life. Most Jewish teachers expected their disciples to remember and pass on their teachings, but Jesus demanded more. Jesus called people to value him more than their livelihoods; sometimes fishermen and tax collectors left their businesses to follow Jesus. Jesus called people to value him more than financial security: he summoned a rich young ruler to donate everything he had to the poor, and Jesus taught disciples more generally to lay up their treasure in heaven.

Likewise, Jesus is above residential security. When someone volunteers to follow him across the lake of Galilee (Matt 8:18-19), Jesus warns that his mission offers less of a place to rest than foxes and birds have (Matt 8:20//Luke 9:58). Jesus matters more than society’s or even family’s approval. Someone else volunteers to follow Jesus once he has finished his final filial obligation, namely, burying his father. Given ancient funerary customs, the man is probably asking for either a year’s delay (to complete the secondary burial, if his father has died) or to wait until his father died. Jesus insists that matters of the kingdom are more urgent than that (Luke 9:59-60). And when someone else asks to just say goodbye to his parents—what Elisha requested before becoming a disciple of the prophet Elijah—Jesus declares the kingdom more urgent than even that (Luke 9:61-62)!

The Gospels show us that Jesus often used hyperbole—rhetorical overstatement—as a graphic way of making his point. Yet he makes the point so often that we should not underestimate what he wants. In Luke 14:33 he declares that if we are really his disciples, then everything we have belongs to him. A few verses earlier he insists that we must love him more than our families (14:26). Indeed, he warns, no one can be his disciple unless we take up the cross and follow him (14:27)—loving him more than life itself.

If you have fallen short of this so far, don’t despair. The Lord takes us where we are at and begins to transform us, if we invite him and welcome him to do so.

You see, Jesus’s first disciples did not take up their crosses to follow him. Jesus warns that no one can be his disciple unless we take up the cross and follow him. Yet when Jesus was arrested, his disciples abandoned him and ran off! Jesus’s executioners had to draft a bystander—Simon of Cyrene—to carry his cross because none of Jesus’s own disciples were there to do it. Indeed, they fell asleep on him at Gethsemane; his leading disciple denied him, and another disciple betrayed him. Jesus still went to the cross for all who would be his followers. He offered his life for us not because we were perfect, but because he knew what he could make us to be. As we continue to walk with him, he teaches us his heart. And the better we get to know him, the more we want to be like him.

Jesus is worth everything. He is like a pearl of great price or a treasure hidden in a field. We can learn to live like we really believe that. Living like we believe that means pouring the resources of our time, energy and money into things that count forever—investing in other people’s lives. Being a disciple of Jesus may cost us this world—but it promises us both the world to come and its foretaste in relationships of love in the present.

1 comment

Comments are closed.

Previous Post

Good news about Christobiography

Next Post

Examples of cultural background for the Bible (English with Portuguese translation; 1 hour)

Related Posts