Sunday

08 September 2013

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (v. 27)


Background

Many adverts, especially for 'financial products' and 'special offers', end with the words (invariably in very small print or spoken very quickly) 'terms and conditions apply'. Given that things are rarely quite what they seem in advertisements, we are always well-advised to 'read the small print' before we commit ourselves to anything we might later come to regret. And that was certainly the case with the earliest Christian Gospels - except that there was no attempt to conceal the 'terms and conditions' in the small print at the end. To decide to follow Jesus, to be a disciple, to learn from Jesus, is, according to the account in Luke's Gospel, not a decision to be made lightly. While he may be exaggerating to make his point, Jesus is certainly saying that to be his disciple means being willing to give up everything we might hold dear - family, friends, status, possessions, even our lives.

Two issues immediately present themselves. The first is that we cannot be sure these words were actually spoken by Jesus. For two reasons: Jesus never, in Luke's Gospel's account, spoke of himself being crucified, so why would he use the image of "carrying the cross" (here and in Luke 9:23)? This only makes sense later, when his followers looked back to his death. And the circumstances Jesus described applied, again, only after his death - Luke's Gospel was written after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, when Jews were being persecuted by Rome and punished by crucifixion. Gentiles (non-Jews) who became Christians risked being treated as rebellious Jews, and Jews who became Christians risked being ostracised, and betrayed, by their families and friends. The second issue is simply this: this is not the 'gospel' we are comfortable with. The more familiar 'gospel' offers forgiveness, blessing, healing and comfort. In Luke's Gospel's account, Jesus certainly offers these things to sinners, the poor, the sick and the marginalised. But for his followers, just the promise of "the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14).

So how should we respond to this passage?


To Ponder

  • Even if Jesus did not put it in these words, this was certainly how Luke's Gospel understood what it meant to be a disciple. Do you thinkit was right? Why?
  • If we are going to take this passage seriously, how might it challenge our understanding of 'the gospel'?
  • What 'terms and conditions' might apply to Christian discipleship today?


Bible notes author: 
  The Revd David Rhymer

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