While serving complimentary coffee and homemade cookies with a Mennonite flare at a local laundromat, a lady with a beautiful and inquisitive smile approached me and asked me, “Are you Mennonite?”
In all honesty, I did not see that coming. I simply smiled and replied back “Yes, I am.”
My response initiated a long conversation about the Christian faith from a Mennonite perspective and after sharing Jesus’ story, this lady was moved to attend church and to see what was going on. Her question about Mennonites and above all the Jesus story pushed me to think about public confession of my faith in Jesus Christ as LORD and savior.
Ironically enough, I connected this conversation with one of my devotionals and Scripture readings for that week—Mark 8:31-38. I have been spending most of my time reflecting on what does it mean faithful discipleship and bold witnessing.
In order to set the stage, allow me to offer a few comments on the text at hand.
First of all, we need to be aware that this passage is very rich in content and in meaning. In addition, it is a text that challenges the reader to a bold and faithful discipleship.
“Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with holy angels” (Mark 8:38 NRSV).
There is no such thing as following Jesus half way!
Nor, following Jesus only when is convenient and within one’s comfort zone. The text of Mark 8:31-38 needs to be seen from the passion prediction narrative including Peter’s confession and from the teaching on relational faithful discipleship perspective. It also sheds light on ecclesiology. it needs to be seen from the early community life, worship and public witnessing of the risen Christ. In addition, we can claim its eschatological assertion.
I have chosen to approach this text from the relational discipleship perspective—claiming that our relationship as followers of Christ encompass three main dimensions of relationship: the relationship between us and God; the relationship with the Body of Christ; and the relationship with our respective community. It is quite common to spend more time on one over the other two.
In a perfect world, we as church and as individuals should spend equal amount of time in each one of them but I think that this is not quite realistic. In spite of it, I would like to propose to keep looking for a healthy balance between the three dimensions.
Most of us tend to spend more time and resources in keeping a healthy relationship with God and with the community of believer. For example, I tend to neglect to foster relationships with my people in my community, and when I do, they hardly know that I am a believer and a follower. I hope and pray that this is not your case.
Yet, I believe that the Gospel of Christ is worthwhile to be shared through both service and words.
Now, let us explore and see what Mark’s text has to say about it. Mark is the only New Testament book which calls itself a Gospel. But it is not just any good news, these are God’s Good News through his son Jesus Christ. New Testament scholars classify this book is a genre and as a particular theological message. In addition, this book is a canonical Christian writing which is and has been normative in the life of the Church throughout time.
This particular text deals at the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and from this moment onward, all attention will be centered in Jerusalem, especially in terms of Jesus’ passion and resurrection narrative and then, in the disciples’ commissioning.
The contextual background of the text is to procure a proper understanding of Jesus’ foretelling of his death, resurrection and second coming as one unit.
The paramount background theme revolves mainly around Jesus’ identity. Then, we have also the theme on Peter’s confession as one of his many disciples. Peter’s interaction with Jesus does not mean that he has prominence over the other disciples. For the most part, these themes are to be unpacked and understood from the teaching perspective on faithful discipleship and bold witnessing with Jesus’ identity as the backbone.
On one hand, Mark wants to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the one who proclaims the kingdom of God, while challenging his audience to become followers of Christ and experience life anew. However, this invitation to follow Christ is not to be taken lightly. On the contrary, it has its costly implications. It implies self denial, taking up the cross and following.
The catchy thing, so to speak, is that those who have been invited to follow Jesus must respond to the calling, but such response should be done at once. In other words, from here on, Jesus rules and everything one is and possesses must be shifted to Jesus’ way. Life as one knows it will be transformed by Jesus’ life example and teachings into a kingdom like lifestyle.
On the other hand, Lamar Williamson in “Mark” asserts that “the best ways to bear witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God is to tell Jesus’ story.” After all for faithful and bold discipleship to tell Jesus’ story is to tell God’s story.
In today’s church, the missional approach can be summarized by the following statement; repent, be baptized, follow and serve because the Kingdom of God is at hand. This remark is an attempt to summarize God’s story, knowing that this does not do complete justice to the metanarrative of God’s love and interaction with humanity.
On one hand, it is through His Son that God fully reveals himself to humanity and it is through Jesus that humanity can fully see the Father and therefore, experience not only forgiveness of sins but also fullness of life. Salvation and transformation are made possible through Jesus Christ; that is to say, an inside out conversion experience happens when one follows Christ.
Now, this following of Christ can be seen as a response to an invitation or as a response to a command. I will suggest us seeing it as one unit.
One cannot follow unless one is called and one cannot obey unless is commanded upon.
Either way, the response rests on oneself and it needs to be understood from the faith-believing and obedience perspectives. Faith-believing and obedience are intrinsically embodied into discipleship and vice versa because the way of Jesus is set forth as the way of Christian life. Jesus is normative for the life of the church and for the life of those who claim to be Jesus’ followers.
Mark’s assertion seems to be the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is here, therefore repent, believe and follow Christ. This claim is to be accompanied by two additional questions: what do people say of the Christ? And what do you say of the Christ? The issue on Jesus’ identity is explained by Peter’s confession, “You are the Messiah.”
Being the Messiah meant rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. It also meant that life must be subjected to God’s will. In addition, it meant for Jesus to confront the powers that oppose God’s plan for humanity.
From this moment on, Jesus’ followers are challenged to wrestle with this question, What do you say of the Christ? This question is asked from a personal and communal perspective, because the way we answer this question it will dictate the path for our lives.
Bonhoeffer in “The Cost of Discipleship” asserts that “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Looking at it from another perspective equals to say that Jesus’ way defines the way of his followers.
Confession and following defines our identity.
Who Jesus is and what he does, are intimately connected to who his disciples are and it clarifies what is expected from them. Confessing his name equals to following him on his way. Therefore, one cannot claim to be a follower of Christ and not been obedient to his commands and to his life transforming teachings.
There is no such thing as a “half-way disciple.”
For example, consider the Great Commission is both an invitation and a command. Sadly, nowadays we have mistaken it with the Great Omission. It is a more of a contemplative approach rather that ‘all hands of deck’ approach. As Church, we need to be reminded that we are a generation of disciples called to make disciples in a holistic way.
On one hand, from the Christological confession Jesus wants for his disciples to be silent about his messianic identity. Contrary to it, he requires of his disciples to openly share what await for him in Jerusalem.
Jesus does not want to be silent about his passion prediction.
He will be rejected, he will suffer and killed. This statement scandalizes his followers causing Peter to suggest that Jesus to refrain from going to Jerusalem. Apparently, Peter and his friends did not hear Jesus well, because he also mentioned that after three days of his death, he will rise again.
On the other hand, the three-fold condition of faithful discipleship—deny self, take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is to be taken as one single demand. If one is to follow him it has to be under his terms. To be a Christian is to follow and to imitate Jesus on his costly way.
For the closing argument on faithful discipleship, we need to ask a basic yet deep question: What does it mean to be Christian?
It means to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and to follow him in life. It means to live a life according to Jesus’ way and to be obedient to God. It means faithful following and bold witnessing in spite of risking or even losing life. It also means to get out of our comfort zones and individualistic mind sets.
To be Christ’s disciples means a new humanity.
Let me conclude with this: We are disciples, we are learners who follow Jesus, and we are followers who learn from him, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. We are to learn to be obedient to the will of God, though it might means suffering and death, primarily to our ego and personal agendas. But it also means rising to a new humanity.
Today’s proposal is to reflect on discipleship from a relational and faithful perspective and for such purpose, allow me to pose the following questions: How are we following Christ?
How is our relationship with God, with the Body of Christ and with our neighbors? When was the last time that you shared Jesus’ story with somebody else?
Friends, it is not about the church; it is about Jesus and the kingdom of God.
Our missional job as Church is to provoke people to have a personal relationship with Christ and a transformational life experience. This mysterious God, revealed in Jesus Christ, called us to be his followers and invited us to a kingdom living. We are called people to God’s mission. We are called to keep and to teach Christ commands. In addition, we are to witness Christ with boldness!
The question posed by the patron at the laundromat “Are you a Mennonite?” pushed me back to a deep and sincere reflection on how does a Mennonite look? and what does it mean to be Christian from a Mennonite perspective?
What are people seeing in us as we claim to be Christ’s disciples? What evidence do we give that supports our faith in Christ Jesus?
As we journey together to a bold witnessing and faithful discipleship, let us go our way believing that God will lead us into the way of the everlasting. But in the meantime, let us not forget that we have mission work to do because faithful discipleship means to practice and to live daily the way of Jesus. It also means to share Jesus with others.
Let us be the generation of disciples that makes disciples!