Sunday, April 29, 2012

Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday: April 29th
  Mark 10:1-16 | Bonhoeffer’s notion of Costly Grace

If you've been to Frog Park in Oakland's Rockridge district this past week you've seen some major construction and trench-digging emerge.  I go there for dog park breaks with my dog David during the day.  Throughout the week I reflected upon the marks that appeared on the street, sidewalks, even the bushes indicating what was below.  It was striking to realize how much is down there, and how ignorant I am of its presence - and exactly how important it all is to and in day to day life.  I think this week's passage is like those markings, pointing to what lies below in our identities, our relationships and our day to day life.

Jesus leaves his base at the home of Peter in Capernaum, returning to public after a fortifying time away, in order to receive curve balls from his opposition.  The Pharisees ask him about divorce – an issue that everyone agreed upon in that day.  Why?  How are they trying to trap him?  As foolish?  As a religious extremist?  As a doctrinal laxiste and relativist?

In their context divorce was permitted (Deut 24): but only for men, who could dismiss or divorce their wife if she was unfaithful and even if she just was no longer pleasing (ie beautiful, willing or subservient).  Jesus challenges this cheap vision of relationships based upon mutual commitment and covenant.  He rejects the established status quo, redefining adultery not as a third person crashing a two person relationship, but as one of the originally committed two people leaving and choosing someone else.  Jesus goes deeper, beyond it is permissible or not, to the nature of relationship, what God intends for all of us – a mirror of what relationship God wants with us (quoting Genesis 1:27, 2:24, 5:2 [in Mark 10:6-7]).  There is no easy way out.  You have to go the distance.

He then compares faith to the unconditional joy of a child.  Think of how kids receive gifts at Christmas or Birthdays: with unconditional excitement, openness to new things, eagerness to experiment, zeal for the present moment free of the burdens of the past and the fear of the future.  That’s how we are to welcome the kingdom or dominion of God :: what God is doing in and through us and in the world.

What does that mean for us?  Contrasting Mark 10:1-16 with the notions of Cheap vs Costly Grace according to German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

       Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.  It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God aught as the Christian “conception” of God.  An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.  The Church which hold the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace.  In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; not contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.  Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. 

       Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.  Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. …  Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.  Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.  [It merely empowers us to live contented with our worldliness with higher ethical standards rather than to achieve renunciation, practice self-effacement, to distinguish his life from the life of the world.]. 

       Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution with personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

       Costly grace is the treasure hidden it he field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all her goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciples leaves her nets and follows him.

       Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

       Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a woman the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all,  it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.  …  Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” p.45-48 of The Cost of Discipleship.

Bonhoeffer is saying that discipleship, choosing to follow Jesus, adopt his teachings, his example, his life-giving-death as the center of our life, is a costly action, which demands obedience, adherence and transformation of every aspect of our life, existence and identity.

·       How do you see the invitation to costly grace (to costly discipleship) in Jesus’ answer to the rhetorical curve ball of the Pharisees?  What is Jesus trying to focus the conversation around?  Is Jesus talking about marriage?; gay marriage?; the status of women in his society?; religious extremism?; doctrinal laxism?; the nature of faith?
·       How do you struggle with this invitation to costly discipleship?  How does it attract you?  How does it discourage you?

·       How do you struggle to accept God’s love, to welcome the gift of faith, the embrace the challenge of resurrection life as a child accepts a gift?  How do you need God to heal, liberate, complete or challenge you to be more child-like in how you receive God’s gifts, Divine direction and the charismas of life in community?

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