Messiahship and discipleship

Daily Reading for August 31 • The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Here we have two rich biblical themes—messiahship and discipleship. Here we have also two illustrations of the human tendency to try to redefine the meaning of biblical teachings to make them more palatable, thereby distorting or corrupting them. But something else is also illustrated here. We can see at work here two fundamental moral impulses that are part of our essential God-given human nature. . . .

The first of these impulses is our human desire to achieve a good end or purpose, to bring about a final victory of the righteous over the unrighteous, to resolve the contradictions of life by realizing some perfect state of things, some version of the Kingdom of God. Hence Peter’s negative response to the idea of a suffering Messiah, one who would only take sin onto himself but not finally resolve the contradictions and tragedies of human history. The second impulse is the human need to live in accord with some understanding of human obligation, to be faithful to that to which we have given allegiance, to do what is right. Hence our desire to water down the demands of discipleship to the level of the humanly possible, so that we can have the satisfaction of being obedient, but without excessive cost. The first impulse is to achieve some state of affairs we acknowledge to be good—peace, a just society, the Kingdom of God. The second is to act rightly in obedience to what we acknowledge to be our highest law—the Constitution, social expectations, the great commandment. The first asks, “What goal am I to seek?”; the second asks, “What is it my obligation to do?”

Those were in fact the underlying questions in the encounter between Jesus and his disciples. They are also the underlying questions for us in our Christian pilgrimage.

From “Jesus’ Messiahship and Our Discipleship” by Allan M. Parrent, quoted in Best Sermons 2 edited by James W. Cox (Harper & Row, 1989).

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