Jesus’ Suffering and Our Discipleship

Today’s Gospel from Luke begins with Jesus’ prediction of his own passion. And Jesus immediately lets his disciples know this isn’t just about him. Immediately following his statement about the suffering and death he will undergo he tells his discipes, “If anyone wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer ties together the two pieces of the passage: Jesus’ prediction of his own passion and the call to discipleship, writing:

Just as Christ is Christ only in suffering and rejection, so also they are his disciples only in suffering and rejection, in being crucified along with Christ. Discipleship as commitment to the person of Jesus Christ places the disciple under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross.

Brother David Steindl-Rast makes the same point when talking about the line in the Creed where we express our belief that “Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That claim reminds us, says Steindl-Rast, that if we are people of faith who follow the example of Jesus, there will be a price. To proclaim belief in the reality that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate

means I know who the top dogs of the world are – then and now; I know them by name, and I know what suffering they can inflict on those who speak up; and yet I put my ultimate trust in Jesus Christ the underdog. It means I know what happened to him and is likely to happen in one way or another to his true followers, and yet, I commit myself, as the Quakers do, “to speak truth to power.”

There will be a cost. To be a Christian is to share in the Paschal Mystery – to experience misunderstanding, taunts, distrust, and so on. This is the reality of discipleship. It is not all about the equivalent of going to wedding feasts turning water into wine, healing folks. There is a cost.

And if it is the reality of discipleship (assuming I still want to call myself a disciple of Christ), I need to ask myself: How will I respond when I am asked to bear the cross?

I spoke at length on this subject during one of the talks I gave at a weekend retreat on the Beatitudes. You can find that talk here.