Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The cost of discipleship

A young Christian brother asked me, ‘Romanos, what is the cost of discipleship for you?’ On first hearing, it seems a simple question, one that expects a simple answer. But no, it is a loaded question, and it speaks volumes. But, let me try to keep it simple for love’s sake.

What is the cost of discipleship to me, or to any person? First, I must tell you, the cost will look different at the beginning of one’s life than it does at the end. Of course, I can’t say ‘at the end’ for myself, because I’m not there yet. I am only one day closer.

As a young man, having been brought up in a religious family, I nevertheless was not satisfied with religion. I suspected that it was a cover for something else, something quite different, yet the same. I thought it best to reject my religious upbringing, and start over.

Unknown to me at the time, I now look back and say, that was my first payment of the cost of discipleship. Loving my parents and my ancestral religion, I still had to leave them behind, because I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back…’

What? But weren’t you a Christian? Weren’t you raised a Christian? Of course, but I began to read the holy and divine scriptures for myself, and there I heard what had been preached to me, unheeded, within the sacred enclosure, ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…’

So like any pilgrim and disciple, that is, follower, of Jesus, I ran after Him, at first with my eyes and ears, and then with my feet. His teachings were very sweet and clear to me. I was like a dry field finally knowing rain, beginning to feel as though I could bear an abundant crop.

This is how it is when anyone, at any age, discovers Jesus, the real, living Jesus, not the Christ of religion. There is a feeling of exhilaration and relief, we feel liberated from being stifled by mere belief. We want to give all and, as a young Christian, that’s what I thought the cost of discipleship was.

This is very linear and unpracticed thinking, but that is how it must be for most people. I felt the cost of discipleship to be a very light burden and, rather than having a sense of ‘giving up the world’, I only felt immense gratitude for being called out of it. Again I say, I wanted to give all for all.

Filled with bible verses to bolster my enthusiasm, I thought of God’s holy commandments as a joy to follow and fulfill, in thanks for being saved. I imagined all the worldly things I was giving up, and living a counter-cultural lifestyle with my wife and children, was the cost of discipleship.

I thought to myself, ‘Yes, this is what Jesus means when He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” and I thought I knew what the cost of discipleship was…

‘Just follow Jesus.’ I say this now, and I said it then, to myself and to anyone else who would hear me. At the beginning of my life in Christ, the cost of discipleship was primarily paid by the Blood of a Lamb without spot, slain before the foundation of the world. I loved to know that.

But before not many years, I learned that to be a disciple you must respond to the call of Jesus Christ, daily, hourly, even minutely. He does not wait for you to contemplate the cost of discipleship from an armchair, or while enjoying a television program or playing with your children.

I also learned that to be a follower of Jesus is dangerous. Why? Because Jesus can walk anywhere, and as He trusts you more, He calls you to accompany Him to places ‘where angels fear to tread.’ Yes, you’re right, ‘For fools rush in’ is the first part of that saying. The cost of discipleship, yes, the cost.

It becomes clearer that you can no longer rely on anything of your own, not your piety, your blameless following of the commandments, nor your refusal to compromise with the world’s demands. Worst of all, the blessings you thought you earned begin to fail. Now, who or what do you rely on?

What then? It may seem that the cost of discipleship can even be, to not know for sure if you are even a disciple at all. This is where the saying, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ comes into play. Not every good saying is a direct quote from the bible. The cost of discipleship, yes, the cost.

Now, a different set of bible verses begins to dawn on us. ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head,’ and ‘No disciple is greater than his master…’ What was this cost of discipleship that we thought we had to pay when we started?

It seems to me, finally, that the cost of discipleship is different for each one who follows Jesus. It is something that we must pay, and if it costs us little or nothing, we must fear that perhaps what we are calling our ‘discipleship’ is nothing of the sort, but only a ‘pious phase’ we’re going through.

Then again, the cost varies with time, place and occasion. What seems hardship or self-denial often has nothing to do with the cost, and sometimes what seems self-indulgence and irresponsibility does. Even worse, the cost places the disciple in the position of being wrongly accused, and judged.

If you want to know the cost of discipleship for me, or for anyone, I should now shut my mouth, and best point to Jesus who says, ‘I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,’ for the cost begins and ends there, with Jesus.

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