The Price of Discipleship

25 Feb, 2024

By the Rev’d Jim Lam

Season: Second Sunday of Lent

Readings: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 | Romans 4:13-25 | Mark 8:31-38

Today is the second Sunday of Lent. One and a half week since Ash Wednesday. What have you been doing so far? Have you been devoting your time to fasting, praying and reflecting? Or have you been “giving something up”?

Well, whatever we choose to do, for all faithful observers, Lent is about Jesus and what he did. And so, in this season, let us reflect on our spiritual life as we prepare our hearts for Easter. Let us consider the price of being a disciple.

If we go back a bit on today’s Gospel, we’ll find Jesus asking his disciples who did they say that he was (Mark 8:27). To this, Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah. (Mark 8:29) After that, Jesus started to make ready for his final battle at Jerusalem. He also prepared his disciples to accept a future that would be, for them, unimaginable. That was, Jesus would not be physically building a kingdom and becoming a king of Israel as people somehow expected him to do. But rather, he would be tortured and killed, and rise again.

Let us put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes. Before the final drama of the Messiah commenced, it was really difficult for them to understand their master’s words. In a human perspective, the Messiah must be equated with glory, laud and honour, power and might. If we go back on history, we’ll find that the Israelites’ ancestor, Abraham, was also confused by his Lord’s words.

Before the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, his name was Abram and his wife was called Sarai. When he was promised a son, he never dreamt that a son would be born to him when he turned 100. He even took the measure of allowing his wife to give him her slave-girl, to make sure that God’s promise would be fulfilled.

Yet when the Lord made a covenant with Abram, he changed the old couple’s names to Abraham and Sarah, signifying that he wanted them to live a totally new life. It was only then that Abraham could realize the promise of the covenant, that he would be made the ancestor of a multitude of nations. And, Sarah would give rise to nation. Kings of peoples would come from her.

Because of this covenant, the Israel people has been able to remain committed to their faith even during severe hardship. It is hard to guess what was in Abraham’s mind when God made such an enormous promise. Similarly, it is hard to guess the disciples’ thoughts when they were told that Jesus would be rising from the dead. I suppose, this would happen to anyone when told something totally unimaginable, even unfathomable.

But how to grasp God’s will? How to distinguish it from human thoughts? Let us figure this out through the disciples’ reaction to Jesus, when he foretold his sufferings. Peter, voicing out the disciples’ minds, took Jesus aside and rebuked him. They could not see eye to eye with their master. OK. Jesus was a descendant of David. That fitted the Messiah job description. But why was he not restoring the Kingdom of Israel with his miraculous power as expected? Why would he choose the way of suffering, rejection and death? How could someone save the nation by doing that? Incomprehensible!

The  mystery of a suffering Messiah so puzzled and bewildered the disciples that Peter was moved to sharply correct his teacher even though he, as a mere disciple, was not supposed to do so.

And Jesus’ reaction? He turned and looked at his disciples. Then he rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus’ remark reminds us of the time he spent in the wilderness to prepare himself for his ministry. During that time, Satan tempted Jesus without any success. In Jesus’ seemingly harsh words, we know that he considered his disciples were yet to understand and live in accordance to God’s will. They had not entered the threshold of being disciples of God thus far. And so, Jesus wanted them to make a decision. He wanted them to choose between two sets of values – eternal and temporal.

Eternal values are those which endure through thick and thin, beyond the limits of our endurance and our earthly life. Temporal values are this-worldly, temporary, and can fall victim to hardship and fashion.

It is noteworthy that at this point, Jesus called the crowd with his disciples. The twelve were hand-picked by Jesus, and they had followed him for some time. But even they might not have seriously considered the price of being disciples, not to mention the crowd. And the price of discipleship is heavy, as the history of the early church shows.

Anyway, Jesus called them together and let them choose for themselves. For those who wanted to quit, they still had the chance to do so. Many of them might have witnessed Jesus’ miracles and healing acts. Some might have been attracted by his mighty power. Some might have  political expectations. Others might be there simply to enjoy the hospitality offered to him and his followers. Whatever the reason, I believe most of them followed him because they wanted to fulfil some personal needs or aspirations. And so, at that point, Jesus demanded them to reflect on their motives, and make a choice.

 If a disciple could not tell the difference between what was eternal and temporal, they would not be able to decide on what was valuable and worthwhile. It would also be impossible for them to hold on to such values in dark times. And this was the choice Jesus’ followers had, and still have, to make.

If we are clear on what is eternally valuable, then it is not at all important to lose something  only of temporal worth. If we can grasp the true meaning of our life and our faith, we would not worry about gains or  losses but would remain joyful and thankful regardless of how much or how little we have.

In the Lenten season, let us find a quiet centre before our God to reflect on the price of discipleship. May God guide us as we work out the difference between what is eternal and what is temporal as we make our choices. May he bless and keep us so that in making this decision, we can be worthy of our calling to follow Christ. Amen.

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