One things for certain, Jesus could easily clear a room—His teachings were often demanding, costly and sometimes confusing—but all for a reason. At one point, Jesus tells all those that are following Him that to be His disciples they had to hate mother, brother, sister, father and even self—to pick up a cross and follow Him. Jesus didn’t mean hate as we think of the word, but it was a provocative call to place the commitment of following Christ above everyone else. In a way, Jesus was saying, “every relationship you will ever have will be affected by your decision to follow me.” This passage still blows me away; I wonder what the disciples would have thought about Jesus’ words—about picking up their cross. This was before Jesus’ death so the pieces of the puzzle weren’t all in place; the cross was just a raw, humiliating form of punishment instituted by the Roman government and not a religious icon.
Relationships are important to all of us. Our family and friends represent a close-knit circle of commitment. Jesus didn’t call us to break that commitment of love, but to experience something more intense on another level, the level of a disciple and teacher. Don’t be quick to think this takes place in a classroom with stale lectures and rote assignments; for Jesus, being a disciple meant hitting the road, experiencing life in a new way—a way that leads to the unknown, something beyond. Beyond what? Beyond the typical life of working, eating, sleeping and waking—beyond the casual existence of life to a deep and unending journey that just begins upon death.
The reality of being a disciple is found in the rough edges of the cross—a sacred icon of self-denial.To embrace it I have to give up something, no everything. In order to slide the cross over my shoulder, I have to drop everything else. What can be expected from a life of following? Well, honestly, I think there is a great deal of uncertainty, discomfort, doubt, loss and fulfillment, peace, joy, true life, real life—forever. That’s reality.
I have a life-size cross that I use during times of worship every once in a while. When I need to get it out, I go to the garage behind the church, slap it over my shoulder and carry it into the church. There are two inevitable things that happen each time I do this: 1. Someone will make the joke, “Hey you’re really carrying your cross, Brian. 2. I will get a nasty splinter. When I begin to pull out the splinter I am often reminded of the reality of the cross. It may sound ridiculous, but sometimes I have to remind myself that what happened on the cross was real—not that I ever thought it was fake—but I often forget to think about the physical nature of the crucifixion. In the same way, the call to follow Christ is not some statement floating in the air; it’s a real and physical call to follow.
Brennan Manning speaks of discipleship as the very life of Jesus flowing in us, taking up residence in our hearts; it’s much more than just copying what He did. Being an apprentice is not just a transferal of information either, but a rich relationship that grows into a sacred connection.
Sometimes I have this picture in my head about the Christian life. It has kind of a Christian bookstore feel to it with a hint of Sunday school. It is flowery, bland and in need of a serious makeover. Thank God, this is not the reality of discipleship; it’s not about comfort or trendy merchandise tailor made to fit my needs, but it’s about the reality of a costly decision that will effect every relationship I have for the rest of my life. It’s about a provocative call that will alter my existence.
[Brian is a pastor and writer in Ohio with his wife, Jenna, and three boys, you can contact him at www.brianorme.com.]