Diogenes the Cynic and philosopher Zeno were in hot debate. As usual. So the story goes, Zeno had claimed that motion was only an illusion, a continuous series of still, punctiliar moments. An arrow shot through the air, he suggested, is always only in one place at one time. Motion, therefore, was only an illusion, something we made up with our eyes.
It was a fail proof argument. He must have looked so smug as he poured another glass of wine.
In response, Diogenes quietly got up from his chair, walked across the room, turned around, and looked at Zeno. “Solvitur Ambulando,” He said. It is solved by walking.
In other words, the existence of motion is proved when we experience the process, the continuous movement, for ourselves.
For generations, becoming a Christ-follower has been described kind of like Zeno might imagine motion - as a one-time-decision experience that happened in a punctiliar moment in punctiliar time: “I got saved!” we called it, once and for all. And in one sense, that statement is true. We were. Jesus died, once and for all. We’ve been claimed and forgiven, once and for all, forever.
But discipleship, that process of letting this truth take root, of becoming more and more like Christ is something else entirely. It is motion, movement...it’s more like walking. More on that in a moment.
Discipleship was no small matter in the ancient world. A rabbi’s disciple was chosen carefully and with great discernment, plucked from the best of the best of the best. Disciples did not simply aim to learn from their rabbis as we might learn from a mentor or teacher. Disciples were not mere apprentices. They were expected to think like their rabbis, to do what they did, to become just like them and carry their messages into the world long after the rabbis were gone.
When a rabbi chose a disciple, he was choosing a person he believed, over time, could learn to do the things that he could do and to be exactly as he was. He was choosing someone whose loyalty would not waver, who could faithfully represent his name. It was said that a good disciple would be covered in dust from his rabbi’s sandals because he was following so closely behind him to learn his ways.
We've said before that at this point in the story, Jesus has been preaching and healing and inviting and leading. And to everyone around him, it really seemed like this was the king, the one they’d been waiting for to conquer and reign and usher in their rule. Soon, they imagined, he would be hoisted up on Jewish shoulders and carried to a Jewish throne while confetti and fireworks declare the Jewish kingdom come, the Jewish will be done on earth as it is in heaven....Mazel Tov!!!
It's likely that Jesus’ disciples would have hoped - would have expected - that in being the disciples of a great rabbi-turned-king, that they would be great too. Do exactly as I do and be exactly as I am would mean shared greatness. And with greatness comes power, and with power comes fame, and with fame comes a voice that matters. And probably cash and castles and candy. They would be the heroes of this story, they’d thought. They’d be the conquerors, they’d thought. Go down in history as the ones who saved the world, they’d thought.
So what Jesus declares here is kind of unthinkable. He’s intending to suffer and die?
This wasn’t what I thought we’d discussed...
It must have been the most confusing statement in the world. If do as I do and be as I am included suffering and sacrifice under this Rabbi, well then...that was something for the disciples to consider now wasn’t it? So it’s no surprise that Peter objects. Or maybe he just had a little brown on his nose.
Oh no you won’t, Jesus. Not. On. My Watch.
But Jesus knows the end of the story just like he knows the beginning and he’s had it in mind from the start. He knows there's a greater Kingdom coming at last, another will at play. In that Kingdom, he must die and we must follow if we are to be true disciples. And because it will be hard to accept, we must choose this Rabbi over and over again as he has chosen us.
Those verbs Jesus uses for “take up” and “follow” can sound in English like a Zeno-style one time, still experience, done in a punctiliar moment. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back. There. I’ve been converted. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Done and done. What's for dinner?
But in Greek, the verbs follow Diogenes. They signify continuous motion, ongoing action - Taking up. Following. Over and over again.
You must take up your cross and follow me continuously. Over and over you must choose me, over and over you must put one foot in front of the other, over and over you must decide to follow, even when following leads you to sacrifice.
Discipleship is more than a one-time decision or assent in our minds; it is a transformation of our whole life’s orientation toward Christ. And then again tomorrow. It is more than a one-time yes to a one-way ticket on a train bound to glory; it is a life-time of yes after yes after yes (amidst, let's be honest, a whole lot of no's), a series of steps by which we learn to live in eternity starting now.
Discipleship is a process of walking so closely behind Jesus that we’re covered in dust, so that we learn to think as he does, do what he does, become like he is. Discipleship is solved by taking up our cross and following behind him, solvitur ambulando, unto death and into new life.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
In his masterpiece Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this, “When Christ calls a person, He bids them come and die” -- die to our prerogatives, our passions, our rights, our dreams, our very selves. What are you still clinging to in your life that is keeping you from fully following Jesus? What are you hanging onto that needs to die today?
Ask the Lord to give you strength to follow him in every area of your life, even in the areas that are scary, and perhaps even more so in the areas that are comfortable.
Today is Friday again. I invite you to consider fasting again today. Again, in a way that is medically and/or professionally responsible. Pick something where you will notice its absence even more than last Friday’s fast. And then come and break your fast with us tonight at Shabbat Dinner.
Pastor Aaron Engler
*To purchase a copy of the printed Lenten devotional, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Long, Thomas. What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith.
- S. Sundar Singh, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”
- Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis.