The Conditions of Discipleship (Luke 9:23-27)

The Conditions of Discipleship.

23 Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

25 What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?

26 Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

27 Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

When scripture speaks to us we don’t get to choose what it’s going to say.  When I first read this passage I was pretty sure that I was going to reflect on taking up one’s cross.  However, the more I prayed about it the more I was moved to reflect on “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.

So first, let’s consider who was with Jesus.  After all, he says “there are some standing here.”  The previous pericope tells us that Jesus was praying in solitude, but His disciples were also with him.  So, it’s some of the disciples who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God.

Next, what does it mean to “taste death”?  Some people interpret this term to mean die – stop living.  So, to them, this verse says “there are some here who will not die until they see the kingdom of God.”  However, it doesn’t speak to me that way.

Recall that when we reflected on Luke 6:6-11 (Debates about the Sabbath) we noted that the terms “life” and “death” don’t always refer to living and dying in a heartbeat and respiration kind of way.  The term “life” can mean a participation in God’s grace and the term “death” can mean an absence of God’s grace.  In this context I take “taste death” to mean that they will become aware of the absence God’s grace.  In other words, they’re going to realize that something is missing.  In “seeing” the kingdom of God they will know that they have no share in God’s life-giving grace; that’s when they will know that they are existing in Adam’s death that God foretold in Genesis (in Gen 2:16-17 God forbade Adam to eat from “the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.  Further He says “when you eat from it you will die”).

So how do they “see” the Kingdom of God?  How do they come to this awareness of a lack-of-grace kind of death? For that matter, how can I see the kingdom of God?  By taking up my own cross; by following Christ; by not living for myself, but instead living for Christ (e.g., I might want a new big screen TV, but Christ will want me to feed the homeless).  If we are “ashamed” of Christ (and His ways) then we will not have a full participation in His grace – how can we?

In short, what this verse says to me is this: If you want to know what you’ve been missing, if you want to awaken to the fact that there is an outpouring of grace waiting for you, then the life of true discipleship means configuring yourself to Christ by participating in your cross, by self-denial, and through love of God.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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