Following Jesus is Tough for the First Disciples and Us

In the dark days of Nazi Germany, Diethrich Bonfoeffer wrote the following in the The Cost of Discipleship: “We are no longer sure that we are members of a Church which follows its Lord….The issue can no longerbe evaded. It is becoming clearer every day that the most urgent problem besetting our Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?”

It has always been tough for the Church to follow its Lord. It started with Jesus’ first disciples. This Sunday—Palm Sunday—we will remember how hard it was for the first disciples to follow Jesus. As the authorities crack down on Jesus, “the disciples deserted him and fled” (Mt.26:56b and par.). Even Peter, who finds his way to the courtyard of the high priest’s house, doesn’t acknowledge that he knows him on three different occasions. At the crucifixion, only a hand full of women followers are anywhere to be found, and even they “look on from a distance.” Everything about the passion narrative reminds us of how challenging it is to follow Jesus.

As we prepare to observe Holy Week, we must confess that Bonhoeffer’s words are words that too often describe us. If we are honest, we wonder whether or not we are truly following our Lord in the modern world. To be sure, unlike the German Church which had pledged allegiance to Hitler, our false allegiances are more subtle. Rather than following Jesus and risking the loss of friendships, we opt for not ruffling any feathers. Rather than standing up for what is right and incurring the wrath of others, we stay silent. Rather than going against the grain of social pressure, we bail out. How many times have you been in a setting where someone tells an offensive joke or advocates clearly unchristian behavior and you just let it go?  I have done this more times than I care to remember. Like Peter I have denied that I know him.

Holy Week doesn’t end well for the disciples. They fail miserably to follow the one who called them. If anything is going to change their capacity to follow, it is clearly going to come from a power beyond themselves. As we observe Holy Week, we will see the extraordinary faithfulness of Jesus contrasted with our own inability to see what Jesus was all about. At the end of the week, aware of the enormity of our loss, all we will be able to do is wait and see if our loss and faithlessness is the last word—or not!