Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 2: The Call to Discipleship

Mark 2:14 And as He passed on, He saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting at the tax-office. And He said to him, Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him

Bonhoeffer uses the story of Jesus calling his disciples as a jumping off point to contemplate discipleship. What does it mean to be a disciple?

Mark seems almost deliberately terse: why did Levi follow Jesus? Did Jesus know him? Did they have a conversation? Mark doesn’t say, he merely reports that Jesus said “Follow Me” and Levi followed.

This gets to the heart of what discipleship is all about. The english word “disciple” is defined as “an active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy”. In the Bible, however, to be a disciple is to be a follower. Jesus does not present Levi with 12 rules for how to be a good disciple or ask him to complete some task that will prove his worthiness. Jesus simply asks him to follow, to walk in his footsteps.

This is very easy on the one hand, but difficult on the other. Levi is in his place of work and Jesus expects him to drop everything and follow. Doesn’t Levi have obligations to his job, his family, his friends? Where will he live, how will he earn a living: those are all practical questions that Jesus could reasonably be expected to answer before Levi followed… But he doesn’t.

Luk 9:57 And it happened as they were going in the way, one said to Him, Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. 58 And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. 59 And He said to another, Follow Me! But he said, Lord, first allow me to go and bury my father. 60 Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. 61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow You, but first allow me to take leave of those in my house. 62 And Jesus said to him, No one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

So what is this discipleship thing anyways? Talk about being unreasonable. Jesus could have waited a minute or two just to let someone say goodbye to their family or bury their father! Why be so demanding?

Again, Jesus demonstrating what is at the heart of discipleship: Willing obedience to the call. Jesus deals harshly because he can see the hearts of men. Each of these men wants to set the terms by which he will be accepted by Jesus: “Lord I will follow you but”.

This should be convicting to us. I know that it is to me. So often in my life my “Yes” to God is a qualified yes: Yes, as long as it doesn’t interfere with… Yes, if I get to … Yes, but not till… Discipleship is to be wholly obedient to the Call by Jesus “Follow Me”.

This seems to be harsh to us, but in reality it is most merciful. Christ calls us to live life by faith: he doesn’t impose law and regulation but instead calls us into relationship with him. It is true that abandoning our old way of life, everything that we have become accustomed to will require faith. But it is only in this faith that we can be right before God: he will have us no other way.

Jesus in his relationship with the disciples constantly aimed to put them in a position where they must live by faith. To a certain extent, I think the disciples understood that.

Matt 14
28 And Peter answered Him and said, LORD, if it is You, tell me to come to You on the water. 29 And He said, Come. And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.

Peter here demonstrates his faith: he does the impossible(briefly, ever so briefly) because the Lord asks it. Here we see the link between faith and action. Bonhoeffer posits two sides to the coin of faith and I want you to listen carefully to see if you agree

Only He Who Believes is Obedient
Only He who is Obedient, Believes.

These two (almost opposing!) truths are illustrated by Peter. He believes in the Person of Jesus, and so he can be obedient and answer the call to come across the water. Jesus refuses to ever let our faith be an academic matter. Peter is not given the option of saying “I have faith” and remaining in the boat! If we choose this path: faith untested, Jesus has no way to use us. But he is merciful, and so gives him the most basic of commandments: “Come”.

And he does. This amazes me, and I think of how Jesus must have smiled to see Peter get out of the boat, trying hard to be casual, and take a step on the surface of the water. Of course in a moment or two he is distracted and begins to sink. Jesus says to him “O you of little faith”.

Now that hurts! I have never walked on water, I haven’t even tried! And yet Jesus says to Peter, who got out of the Boat and took a step “O You of little faith”. I think it is because Peter’s actions show what he really thinks: exposes the lack of depth to his faith. Peter believes in Jesus, but he believes in the waves and the wind even more. Peter believes in a small God, an insignificant Jesus…

This is how it is for me at least. Certainly, I believe in God the Creator of the Universe, possessed with all power… Until he asks me to do something… Then I am full of provisos and conditions… Jesus, calls us to live by faith and mercifully puts us into a position where we have no choice: human calculations fail us and we must simply follow.

I must caution, however, against one thing. This call to live by faith must come from God. I am not free to stroll about picking whatever meets my fancy and saying: this will be the test of my faith, whether or not I can do this thing… The most we can do is, with Peter, ask to be tested: Lord if it is You, tell me to come to you on the water. Without the call, obedience becomes works righteousness: see, I will prove what a christian I am by accomplishing this goal or that.

Fortunately for us, God, I believe, is constantly inviting us to live by faith: is constantly calling, softly sometimes, but throughout our day a heavenly “follow me” is present. My prayer for each one of us is that, when we hear this prompting throughout our week, we do not offer conditions or provisos, we simply obey.