Discipleship

Originally published in November 1937, just after the closing of Finkenwalde, Discipleship developed a theology of Christian vocation in dialogue with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew. The tone is eschatological, the urgency palpable. The church, Bonhoeffer charges, has become the purveyor of "cheap grace" - "grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate" - and remains unwilling to pay the "cost" of the loss of its power, its privilege, its domination of one another. In its support of warfare, and in its refusal to protest the vengeful urge towards genocide, the church has forgotten that "the brother's life is a boundary which we dare not pass."28

The church has forgotten the "costliness" of God's bearing our flesh, bearing the burden of our sinfulness. And so we have forgotten how to live with one another. We have forgotten that "as Christ bears our burdens, so ought we to bear the burdens of other human beings . . . not only the Other's outward lot. . . but quite literally the Other's sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share . . . Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian's duty to bear."29

In Discipleship Bonhoeffer made a most remarkable case for claiming that the thing that makes Christians distinct, indeed what is extraordinary about being a Christian at all, is Christ's costly command to love our enemies. Loving one's enemies is what distinguishes not just the most saintly of the followers of Christ, but any Christian precisely as a Christian at all. Without it, for Bonhoeffer, we are no different from the unbelievers, who also love their family and friends, while for Jesus, "love is defined in uncompromising terms, as the love of our enemies."30

During the 1930s this theme of the love of one's enemies became more and more prominent in Bonhoeffer's writings. He leaves no room for ambiguity: "Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy's hatred, the greater our enemy's need of love . . . No sacrifice which a lover would make for their beloved is too great for us to make for our enemy."31 Bonhoeffer concluded in moving, and measured words: "Giving up our desire to take revenge," he told his listeners, is "a hard sacrifice, perhaps the hardest, which Christ requires of us."32 Take heed of the fact, he concluded, that "The first person born on this earth to humankind murdered his brother . . . 'Never be conceited' - lest you become murderers of your brothers."33

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