Friday 20th March
There was once a famous German theologian and pastor called Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and during World War 2, he was faced with a choice, to stay in safety in exile in America, or to return to Nazi Germany. And he felt that God was calling him home to Germany, and so he did, and he was eventually caught by the Nazis and executed 23 days before the end of World War 2. And before he died, he wrote profoundly and movingly about what it meant to follow Jesus, about being a disciple, and this was one of his simple but memorable statements: “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” He is suggesting that if you aren’t following Jesus, your Christianity is empty of Christ.
When Jesus says, ‘follow me’, as he does to 2 sets of brothers in this passage, he is looking for disciples, followers, learners. And it is increasingly clear that what Jesus means by this, what he means about discipleship, is for them to become as he is so that they can do what he does. The walk of a follower of Jesus is not just about spiritual disciplines. It’s not just about Bible study, prayer, worship, showing up in good places, avoiding bad places, it’s about becoming like Jesus. They understood that discipleship is cyclical and repetitive (I learn and I teach), it is learning by imitation (I watch and I copy), it is fuelled by faith (Jesus commended or rebuked them about their faith more than anything else), it is demonstrative (it is displayed through action, often through the works of the Spirit), and it is costly. And that’s why these 2 sets of brothers, together with the other disciples, slowly grew in their discipleship, their “followship”, though it was often tortuous and littered with trials and many errors. They grew, through imitation, rising faith, courageous action, and ultimately deep sacrifice. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, they turned their world upside down! It is really not enough to study Jesus from a book, even if the book is the Bible. It is not even enough to have our characters formed into his likeness, even though that’s a symptom of the journey. The job of following Jesus, the goal, is to become like him so that we can do what he does.
Reflection by Frank Hinds