While reading “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was struck by this observation, he writes, “If we would follow Jesus, we must take certain definite steps. The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible.” With this in mind, look at this passage from Luke 9. In Verses 57-62 Luke recounts Jesus’ words as Jesus explains the cost of discipleship,

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Notice each of the three men to whom Jesus refers: The first would-be disciple offers to follow Jesus without being called. “I will follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus responds not as we might expect—with jubilation or appreciation, but rather by warning that this disciple knows not what he is offering to do. This disciple does not yet know of the suffering that Jesus will face and therefore neither knows or understands the cost of truly following Jesus. Bonhoeffer notes, “That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer—He shows the would-be disciple what a life with Him involves.” Bonhoeffer rightly goes on to point out that no man can call himself to such a life or such a price. Bonhoeffer suggests, “No man can call himself to such a destiny, says Jesus, and His words stay unanswered.” According to the underpinnings of this story, one cannot call himself to discipleship. However, when one is called, Jesus can bridge the widest gaps.

The second man has a different hindrance to his would-be discipleship. “‘To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” This disciple is indeed called, but his response belies two false assumptions.

First, the request to go and bury his father was likely a future request. His father was surely not deceased yet or the good son would have been off attending to his father’s funeral and affairs already. Likely, as a good Jew, this son did not want to upset his father by following this radical rabbi and departing from tradition. He was willing to follow, once his father was no longer around to object. This gives way to a second and even deeper issue. The Law.

This would-be disciple wanted to first fulfill the Law and then follow Jesus. He was in the “Jesus-AND-the-Law camp.” Jesus was good but needed to be added to the Mosaic Law and traditions to be adequate, rather than understanding Jesus as “the fulfillment of the Law” (Matt 22:40); a new way all together. To this man, Jesus was a component or an ingredient, and not the complete package.

“Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” This third would-be disciple thinks that he too must take the initiative and offer to follow Jesus, but on his own terms. The primary difference between the first and third potential disciples is that the third is willing, but only on the terms he stipulates. This third man wants to follow, but only if he can do it his way. There is a big “but” in this man’s offer to follow Jesus.

The first one isn’t called and doesn’t understand the cost. The second wants Jesus but doesn’t think He alone is enough. The third isn’t called but is willing if he can do it on his own terms. One way to read through the Gospels in a way that is practically applicable, is to insert yourself in the story. To whom in this story can you most relate? Do you flinch at the high cost of discipleship as it becomes apparent? Do you sense your own need to add to Jesus’ grace through additional works, practices, or penance? Are you willing to follow, but only in your own way or on your own terms…does your followership have limitations?

Follow Up:

  1. What are you unwilling to give up to follow Jesus? Will you leave friends, places, comfort, safety, occupation, or social activities, if led to do so?
  2. Is Jesus’ grace enough to truly cover you in the Father’s love? Or do you believe there is more required before you can be accepted by, and pleasing to, your Heavenly Father?
  3. IF you believe in Jesus, you ARE called to discipleship. What is holding you back from going all in?

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