Someone has said that as a present-day salesman Jesus would no doubt be a failure; many modern minds would find his offers not only unattractive but repelling.

Some might consider certain things he said to be repressive of Christian discipleship. We might have expected his wholehearted endorsement of the would-be disciple who said fervently, “I will follow you wherever you go”; the Master at least might have answered, “Come along, and we’ll see how you do.” Instead the man seems to be stopped at the starting gate: “Foxes have their holes, the birds their roosts; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Another would-be follower wanted to bury his father but was told that announcing the Kingdom was far more important than conducting family funerals. The Lord’s response must have been a hard blow also to another candidate, who asked only for the chance to bid his family farewell: “No man who sets his hand to the plough and then keeps looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Most men who asked to be Jesus’ disciples lived in an unsympathetic world. They were targets of political brutality. Food and shelter came to them through agonizing toil. Life was a constant pressure; despair nagged their spirits. Yet to the down-beaten men, men who doubtless looked for encouragement and for some sign of social “lift,” Jesus issued the grim command: “Take up your cross!”

Jesus fed men by a miracle, and they offered him a crown; he fled them by night to Capernaum. When they followed him there he said darkly, “I know you have come looking for me because your hunger was satisfied with the loaves you ate.” He delivered a sermon so utterly strange to them that some cried, “This is more than we can stomach! Why listen to such words?” He saw their shock and watched them walk away from him. The crowd thinned until only a handful were left. Now he was alone with his disciples. Would we not expect him to turn to the faithful dozen that stayed with him and pour out commendation? Instead, we find him asking: “Do you also want to leave me?” It was a fierce question. And even when Peter spoke heroically for the Twelve—“Lord, to whom shall we go? Your words are words of eternal life”—the Master appeared unsoftened. “One of you is a devil,” he said.

Imagine this stern disciplinarian confronting the average churchgoer today! How “far out” his challenge sounds. “Enter by the narrow gate.… The gate that leads to life is small and the road is narrow, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus told a story about a tired servant who comes in from plowing the field. Will the master offer him a chair at the table?, Jesus asks. Isn’t he more likely to demand to have his supper served and expect the servant to eat afterward? Shall the servant expect a pat on the back? Instead he can face himself in the mirror and mutter, “Unprofitable servant!”

What sort of talk is this? Need we be surprised that the modern mind, saturated with secularism, cries that the Gospel is no longer “relevant” to our world? Small wonder we cannot communicate such a message to our proud, self-serving generation. What a salesman it would take to promote a kingdom founded by a Man who orders his followers, “Hate your life!”

This discipleship Jesus offers entails more than self-dying; it demands a willingness to suffer socially for the Gospel. Jesus made this very clear: “If the world hates you, it hated me first, as you know well. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because I have chosen you out of the world, for that reason the world hates you. Remember what I said: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ As they persecuted me, they will persecute you; they will follow your teaching as little as they have followed mine. It is on my account that they will treat you thus, because they do not know the One who sent me.”

This hard promise has been worked out in the lives of many men, among them the mightiest apostle of them all. Mocked, mobbed, jailed, and flogged, he wrote out his cry for all men to remember—“Every day I die.”

Apparently, vast portions of the contemporary Church in America scarcely exhibit enough of this spirit, the spirit of self-dying and spiritual rebirth, to warrant persecution! The world does love its own, as Jesus said. All too often the Church is too much like the world to cause friction.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t asking men to die to themselves and suffer in society without a reason. There was a purpose in his demand for the cutting off of hands, the plucking out of eyes, this squeezing through tight doors and keeping to the narrow ways. This way leads to life. It is far better to come into life crippled than not to come in at all! Only through the surrender of the old life can new life begin. The order, “Take up your cross,” implies dying. And only beyond dying can we find the resurrection life.

Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

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