Lent and the cost of discipleship

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

In the gospel account, Jesus and his disciples are headed toward Jerusalem where he has told them he is to suffer and be killed, after which he is to be raised to life. This was beyond their understanding. The idea of the Messiah suffering and even be put to death was completely foreign to them, in fact an oxymoron. But they had been around Jesus long enough to realize that one can’t go on one’s own understanding as his follower. That sooner than later something Jesus says or does will throw them for a complete loop, so that the ground they were standing on before is suddenly gone. Not that their experience was entirely that. God’s word was being fulfilled in Jesus, just not in the ways people supposed it would be.

We know that Thomas is the disciple who after the resurrection couldn’t bring himself to believe that Jesus had rose from the dead apart from seeing and touching the risen Lord, himself. So that he at least struggles in his faith, even if he is neither the pessimist or cynic by nature many of us have taken him to be, “doubting Thomas.” Some see his statement quoted above as an example of his pessimistic nature. Others see it as a declaration of devotion from a committed even if seriously incomplete disciple. I used to naturally read it in the former way, since to an extent I can identify with that point of view, the need to verify. But I prefer now to see it as paradox or “irony” (as Gary Burge says in his commentary on John). Thomas’ commitment and devotion were just as real as the other disciples, in spite of the weaknesses (like the rest of us) he had.

We would like everything to be easy and just a certain way, ideally, even along with the acknowledgment of our commitment to follow Jesus in the way of the cross. We may be used to being buoyed up by grace so that even through some hard places, it didn’t seem hard at all. And that’s all well and good. But we have to face the fact that in following our Lord life often is not going to be like that, even as we see from our Lord’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the rest of the New Testament.

And so our call is to follow come what may in our circumstances and experience to the end with no turning back. We go on, wanting to be near the Lord in all of this, all the more in our struggles, together in him and by the Spirit.

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