My friend said these words to me today: “I’m not following Jesus”. Of course he is following Jesus, but he is not following Jesus at the same time. He lives in the tension of not being able to follow when certain aspects of his life come into question. He is left helpless and unable to make the journey.
Certain texts from the scriptures come to his mind, he associates himself with the one who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus, or the one who wants to say goodbye to his family first (Lk. 9.57-62). Scripture seemingly condemns him. Shouldn’t we all fear the words of Jesus in this passage? Are we really fit to follow him? And what exactly was Jesus intention in saying these things? Is he really discouraging people from following him if they’re unfit? Is it that simple, or is there a motivation behind his words? Is he trying to help people see that, without his help, they are unfit to follow him?
The rich young ruler could not leave his wealth to follow Jesus. Jesus says:
I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of GodMt. 19.16-30
The disciples ask “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus says “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
All things are possible? Even the transformation of people who’s broken hearts cling to the fractured creation?
If you could give your sin to God, you wouldn’t need God.
Immediately Peter boasts that he, and the other disciples, had left everything to follow Jesus. But was this true? No. When it came to dying on the cross with Jesus, Peter was out. He could not afford the cost of following Jesus. All the other disciples fled. They would rather cling and return to life as they had known it than face death. It was not until after the resurrection, and the transformation that became available through its power that Peter became the person Jesus called him to be. Tradition has it that he was eventually crucified, upside down. The hope is that tomorrow does not have to be the same as today.
A mentor of mine says “If you could give your sin to God, you wouldn’t need God.” Consequently repentance looks like saying “God I can’t give this up, but I’m willing to let you take it from me.”
The reality of following Jesus
Perhaps Jesus is so harsh, and in ways demanding, regarding the cost of following him so that we’re forced to see that we can’t clean ourselves up enough to join him on the journey. The good news is that Jesus still meets us there, and if you’re willing he will change you. You have to hit that brick wall, you have to realize that you simply can’t will the change you want, so that you can come to realize that unless God shows up and changes you … well … you’re hopeless.
And this is the problem ultimately. Nobody likes feeling weak, powerless, out of control, and desperate. But for some reason this is where God meets us, and loves us. James Dunn argues that the Christian journey associates more closely with Jesus experience of death and crucifixion than the resurrection. We live between these two realities. We continually die to ourselves, and we continually experience the new life breaking in through the cracks of this reality. Yet we do not find ourselves able to live completely in new creation until we fully die. It’s a hard road, but it’s one through Jesus’ strength and mercy that my friend can follow.
But all this knowledge doesn’t necessarily make the reality easier. I will not only pray for my friend, but I will continue to journey through this with him. It won’t be easy, but we will die together. We face the challenge of wanting to follow Jesus yet failing to follow him, and in this tension we actually discover how our failure will help us follow him all the more. It is when we are weak that Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf is all the more beautiful.