Thursday 3 November 2005

Privileged westerners and the call of Jesus

Jesus’ call to discipleship included this demand: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). What can this call to discipleship mean for those of us who are privileged Westerners? It seems to me that we haven’t taken the call of Jesus seriously unless we have felt the pressure of this question. And confronted with the absoluteness of Jesus’ call, our exegetical instinct may often be one of self-preservation.

I’ve noticed that many sermons on the sayings of Jesus start out with Jesus’ own sharp antitheses and shattering absoluteness—and then the preacher ends up with a harmless and domesticated middle-class interpretation (or, worse still, an “application”) of these sayings! This self-preserving interpretive strategy is perfectly understandable, precisely because Jesus is not just announcing something that we already knew for ourselves. He is announcing a wholly new thing: the breaking-in of the reign of God. And this new thing demands a new and absolute decision: either/or!

Thus it’s no coincidence that, faced with the absolute and very concrete demands of Jesus’ call to discipleship, the rich young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). It seems to me that if we privileged Westerners don’t feel tempted to do the same, to “go away sorrowful,” then we haven’t yet really been grasped by what Jesus is saying.

(This post is adapted from my comment on Michael Jensen’s blog.)

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