Discipleship as Becoming

For the last four weeks we have been hearing chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel. This is a key chapter – it’s a pity that we chop it up over four weeks in the lectionary! This past Sunday we heard the last bit of the chapter – some not happy with what Jesus said and Peter (proclaiming loudly!) “You have the words of eternal life”. Chapter 6 is rich in meaning but one thing that has struck me over the last few weeks is how much this chapter is about transformation and new identity. Jesus opens a new way of seeing, a transformed way, and offers that to us. Some of those who hear him don’t like it, others follow him more closely afterwards.

The transformation Jesus offers is not the same “transformation” we talk about politically in South African society. It is about a remaking, a remoulding a change that helps us to become more authentic – changed and nourished so that we can nourish others in return. It is about being changed so that we can find within ourselves the freedom to let go and embrace the “new” that Jesus offers us so that we can “become” hence taking on a new identity.

Sadly, I think, many Christians don’t see our discipleship of Jesus as a journey of transformation. My suspicion is that we tend to think of discipleship (or following Jesus) as, perhaps, a convenient way of avoiding punishment or hell or some sort of eternal damnation. We try out best to obey the rules, to make sure that we do things “by the book”. Our discipleship can so often be about obeying and avoiding that we, like the closed minds in John 6, forget that it is meant to be a journey of ongoing transformation so that we can offer something real, meaningful and authentic to our society and in so doing take on a new identity. Sometimes I wonder if it is easier for us to obey the rules and avoid whatever it is that we feel insecure about than embark upon the journey of transformation. The journey of transformation is a much more demanding one, the journey of transformation is one which is captured best, I think, by the words of St John in a sobering way a few chapters later in the Gospel:

“…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Therein is the truth about the Christian disciple: the one who knows that I am continually called to transformation by dying to self so that I can produce fruit, not the person who simply obeys and avoids.

The martyred Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offers us another thought about the journey of transformation that is worth pondering: “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveller.”

Are we “traveller” disciples?