Jesus eventually asks (what seems like) ‘too much’. He exposes our weakness to the limit. He challenges us more than we thought possible. The “old man” grows exhausted under the glorious weight of Jesus’ love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave a great sermon about the prophet Jeremiah that evokes this theme, which he liked to call costly grace:
Jeremiah was not eager to become a prophet of God. When the call came to him all of a sudden, he shrank back, he resisted, he tried to get away… The noose is drawn tighter and more painfully, reminding Jeremiah that he is a prisoner. He is a prisoner and he has to follow. His path is prescribed. It is the path of the man whom God will not let go, who will never be rid of God.
This path will lead down into the deepest situation of human powerlessness. The follower becomes a laughingstock, scorned and taken for a fool, but a fool who is extremely dangerous to people’s peace and comfort, so that he or she must be beaten, locked up, tortured, if not put to death right away. That is exactly what became of this man Jeremiah, because he could not get away from God.
And Jeremiah was just as much a man of flesh and blood as we are, a human being like ourselves. He felt the pain of being continually humiliated and mocked, of the violence and brutality others used against him. After one episode of agonizing torture that had lasted a whole night, he burst out in prayer: “O Lord, you have enticed me and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.”
Jeremiah was upbraided as a disturber of the peace, an enemy of the people, just like all those, throughout the ages until the present day, who have been possessed and seized by God, for whom God had become too strong… how gladly would he have shouted peace and Heil with the rest…
The triumphal procession of truth and justice, the triumphal procession of God and his Scriptures through the world, drags in the wake of a chariot of victory a train of prisoners in chains. May he at the last bind us to his triumphal carriage so that, although in bonds oppressed, we may participate in his victory. (Eric Metaxas)
Okay, so you may not be likely going to the rack tomorrow, but for the a twenty-first century millennial is anything more tortuous that giving up the right to customize and craft your our life? Is anything more counter-millennial than to not allow your likes and dislikes to be sovereign?
“With [the] calling [from Jesus,] I and my existence are put under obligation… I am called to discipleship and fellowship. This means existential participation to the utmost. The goal is not to grasp the truth but to be in it, i.e., to exist in the name of the faithfulness of God which confronts me bodily in Christ. Thus discipleship cuts deep. It means breaks and partings. I put my hand to the plow. I cannot look back… I am called out of the familiar world and its security. I must renounce even what I previously regarded as pious duties (Matt. 8:18-22).”
The demanded “breaks and partings” call for new likes and dislikes, new securities, new alliances, and new ways of living. We must either renounce or reconceive old ways in the light of Jesus as Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). The shakeup demanded by Jesus as Lord is palpable and thorough. To the extent that we insist on our own ways of living and thinking, or our own likes and dislikes, we will firmly resist the shakeup. We will thus resist Jesus as Lord. (Helmut Thielicke, quoted in Jesus and Philosophy)
Why would anyone do this?
…in human matters there are things that are perceptible only to the personal category of love. In them love has [an] epistemological function…. Nobility of soul, or even charm, cannot be known in an objective, unprejudiced, and unloving way. This is surely what Goethe meant when he said one can understand only what one loves. (Helmut Thielicke)
The only way to see anything mentioned above as beneficial – let alone supremely beneficial – is to love.
Here is an extract [from a letter which Mother Teresa wrote to Malcolm Muggeridge]: “I think I understand you better now. I am afraid I could not answer to your deep suffering… I don’t know why, but you are to me like Nicodemus (who came to Jesus under cover of night), & I’m sure the answer is the same – ‘Unless you become a little child…’ I am sure you will understand beautifully everything – if you would only ‘become’ a little child in God’s hands. I know what you feel – terrible longing – with dark emptiness & yet He is the one in Love with you.” (I Loved Jesus in the Night)
Love Jesus, and you will know His demands as good (know Him as good). Expect to have His demands be proven to you to be good first before you consent your love (i.e. to have the ‘costliness’ taken out of them), and you will not find Him good. Love alone “knows” Him. Only love can see love. And it discovers that He is trustworthy, because He is Love.
[Continued from above] The phrase which has the most resonance, given all that we have learned about Mother Teresa’s own inner darkness, is the statement: ‘I know what you feel – terrible longing – with dark emptiness.’ But, in the end, of course, the brief, final statement: ‘and yet He is the one in Love with you’ is the statement of absolute supreme importance. Not once but many times I heard Mother Teresa repeat this statement… It is a message at the core of her mission: He is the one in love with you. (I Loved Jesus in the Night)
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk. 10:42-45)
The authority of Jesus is anchored and confirmed not in coercive power but rather in the power of His self-giving love, the kind of unselfish love (agape) He attributed to His divine Father. (Jesus and Philosophy)