By Pastor Jerry Donovan
In Luke 9:57-62 we read how not all prospective followers of Jesus were aware of the nature of discipleship. He used harsh words to make the issue plain. They would be following a leader who spent nights without a place to sleep. Loyalty to him must take priority over the burial of family. Indeed, burying the dead was a task fit for the spiritually dead. And while Elijah allowed Elisha to visit his parents at home (1Ki 19:19-21), Jesus even excluded that possibility. He makes it perfectly clear that following him requires absolute obedience to Him over all other claims.
Answering the call of Jesus cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible. One must die too self and be reborn anew. Levi must leave his tax collection business and Peter his fishing nets in order to truly follow Jesus. As long as Levi sits in his tax booth and Peter in his fishing boat they can honestly and dutifully continue in their trade, and even enjoy new religious experiences. But to truly believe in God, the only way is to follow his incarnate son.
Before the day they were called they could remain in obscurity waiting for the Messiah, doing their work, following all the proper religious rituals while waiting. But now he has come, and he is calling. Faith is no longer sitting and waiting, but getting up and following him. If Levi had not gotten up and followed, Jesus may have helped him with the problems in his present life, but Jesus certainly would not have become the Lord of his whole life. A new impossible situation must be created in order to believe in Jesus as God incarnate. Peter had to take the risk and obey Jesus, leave the boat, and do the impossible task of walking on water to learn both his own weaknesses and the mighty power of the Lord.
The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definite step is taken, the call vanishes into thin air. If anyone imagines they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deceiving themselves. It is only the call of Jesus which creates a situation where faith is possible. A situation where faith is possible can never be demonstrated from the human side. Discipleship is not an offer a person makes to Christ. It is only His call which creates the situation. It is in this situation that a person realizes the truth of this statement: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.
When the Bible speaks of following Jesus, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogmas, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which worries the conscience. If they follow Jesus, people escape from the hard yoke of their own laws, and submit to the kindly yoke of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we ignore his commands. We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when his command, his call to absolute discipleship, is valued in its entirety. Only the person who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly and unresistingly lets his yoke rest upon him, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, indescribably hard, for those who try to resist it. But, for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it. His commandment never seeks to destroy life, but to foster, strengthen and heal it.
These words were inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship published in 1937. He not only wrote these words but gave his life for these beliefs when he and his family were executed on April 9, 1945 by the Nazi SS Black Guards.