But clearly, Jesus is saying that to be his disciple a person must put him in first place among all one’s relational loyalties. Any one of you who is not fully devoted to me, he says, anyone does not give up his claim of ownership on everything he has and even his own life cannot be my disciple.
Immediately, you have to ask yourself, What sort of person makes this kind of demand? If I demanded such a commitment, you’d think I was crazy—or at least you should. To make such a demand, Jesus can’t be a mere religious wise man—a mere teacher—sharing a few pearls of wisdom about how best to get along in the world. Not even a holy prophet could say the kinds of things Jesus says here. A prophet says, Follow the ways of God; Jesus says, Follow me—supremely.
If we would be his disciples, Jesus demands our ultimate and absolute devotion—the kind of devotion that rightly belongs to God alone. If Jesus is not divine, we must say he was demented if not downright demonic in making these demands, something along the lines of a Jim-Jones-like cult leader.
Do you want to be a Christian, a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ (and these are all ways of saying the same thing), then listen again to his words—“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
These are hard words, and many see these demands as entirely unreasonable, impossible and unthinkable. But let me try to put them in another light. I am a pastor, and as a pastor I perform weddings. And as one who officiates at weddings I am struck by the fact that these requirements of Jesus sound strangely similar to what is expected in a marriage. Isn’t the commitment made in a marriage just as exclusive, as unconditional, and as demanding as what Jesus sets before us?
I say to the groom, “Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife…Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish and forsaking all others, keep you only unto her, so long as you both shall live?” And of course I ask the same thing of the bride. And each of them will say to the other, “With this ring I thee wed and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.…” And doesn’t Paul instruct husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her—unto death.
Isn’t all this included in the words, “Will you marry me?” That is, Will you make me the pre-eminent person in your life? Will you set aside your parents, your brothers and sisters, and all your other friends, and devote yourself first and foremost to me? Will you give up sole ownership of all that you own and share with me all that have, as I make the same commitment to you?
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