Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Call to Discipleship

Bonhoeffer begins his look at the call to be a disciple by examining a number of the stories of Jesus' early ministry recorded in the Gospels. He first points out the peremptory nature of that call — that in each case there is no "explanation" as to why someone responds toJesus's call. The call asks for a complete and immediatecommitmentt simply to follow. It is not a matter of calculation or evaluation but of obedience personally to Jesus himself.

While it would be rather conventional to say that such obedience is a result of belief, Bonhoeffer asserts that the converse is true as well. Neither is prior to the other: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

Since then we cannot adequately speak of obedience as the consequence of faith, and since we must never forget the indissolubleunity off the two, we must place the one proposition that only he who believes is obedient alongside the other, that only he who is obedient believes. In the one case faith is the condition of obedience, and in the other obedience is the condition of faith. In exactly the same way in which obedience is called the consequence of faith, it must also be called the presupposition of faith.

Only the obedient believe. If we believe we must follow a concrete command. Without this preliminary step of obedience, our faith will only be pious humbug, and lead us to the grace which is not costly. Everything depends on the first step. It has a unique quality of its own. The first step of obedience makes Peter leave his nets, and later get out of the ship. It calls upon the young man to leave his riches. Only this new existence, created through obedience, can make faith possible. (pp. 69-70)
Nothing easy about this, but I can understand it from my own life. There have been changes to my internal spiritual life that have lead to changes in behavior, to reconsidering decisions made and directions aimed at. But just as, or perhaps more often, it is the change in behavior, the decision to obey as best I understood in some area of my life, that has changed me internally and spiritually. It has never been a matter of becoming perfect, but of being willing to take the one step visible to me, then stepping out. I have been longer on belief than obedience, and Bonhoeffer points out that may not be really believing at all.

How much of what we see as faith really is empty, or as Bonhoeffer puts it, cheap?

Later: Bonhoeffer stresses that there is nothing in the Gospel text to indicate that any of the disciples knew Jesus personally at all before they were called. There are current scholars (such as John Pilch at Georgetown) that would disagree, saying that based on an understanding of First century CE Mediterranean culture and the environment in a place like Capernaum or Nazareth, we can assume that Jesus was well known to the disciples, and the call was just the end of one process and the beginning of another. And I think this may be true, for as far as it goes.

But I think Bonhoeffers basic point here still stands. This culural analysis is what we bring to examining this story. But we must remember that the one thing that the Gospel writers and the early church found important to record and remember in this story is simply that Jesus called, and the disciples obeyed, nothing more.

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