In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a clear call and instruction on “discipleship.” Being a disciple is more than being a follower. We see instances in the Gospels of people who were followers of Jesus who turned away when they were challenged to become disciples. Discipleship involves accepting and integrating into our lives the teachings and values of the one whose disciple we become.
One clear experience of discipleship for me has to do with encountering our brothers and sisters in Carcasse, Haiti. When we visit them we must put aside many comforts we are accustomed to and immerse ourselves in their daily existence in all its poverty and joy. We give up things we are used to such as clean water, doors, windows, air conditioning, electricity, refrigeration and become followers of their lives — eking out an existence each day from sunrise to sunset.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus lays out a clear challenge to his followers. To paraphrase: “You must not let any person in this world stand in the way of your following me.” “Figure out what it is going to take for you to become my disciple. Don’t be unprepared.” And, finally, “Renounce any possessions that stand in the way of being my disciple.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor in the first half of the 20th century, wrote a book titled The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself knew that cost firsthand. As a disciple of Jesus, Bonhoeffer risked everything, including his life, in order to resist Hitler and the spread of Nazism.
Bonhoeffer contrasted the cost of discipleship with what he called “cheap grace.” Cheap grace implies that the believer wants to have forgiveness without really being repentant, to have baptism without living the life of the church, to have Communion without really believing, and to be a disciple without accepting the cross. In other words, cheap grace means wanting to be a Christian without Jesus Christ!
In contrast to “cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer defines the costly grace of discipleship this way: “Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a person to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ ”
Bonhoeffer argues that as Christianity spread, the church became involved with the state, and secularization set in. The call to discipleship became exclusive to religious professionals like monks and nuns. Ordinary Christians, even some clergy, saw their Christian life as a practice of keeping rules rather than submitting to the “yoke of Christ” in full discipleship.
Today it is still as true as it was in the time of Jesus: Not all followers are disciples, but all followers are called to become disciples.
Peace, Fr. Kevin