I think I’ve mentioned previously that our theater company is presenting a play about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance work in Nazi Germany. So his life and words are on my mind a lot just now. One of his most famous quotes (cited above) was the topic of discussion at rehearsal recently.
Bonhoeffer felt that call. Forced to witness the travesty of twisted dogma which was promoted by the new German State Church under Hitler, he could not keep silent. 6,000 pastors formed a new movement called the Confessing Church.
But still, many others caved under the threat of persecution, imprisonment or death, and took an oath of fidelity to Hitler as part of their ministerial vows. Many Germans willingly turned a blind eye to the punishing new decrees against the Jews and others deemed unworthy to be a part of the “master race.”
Bonhoeffer, meanwhile, joined a resistance movement which worked for three years to subvert the government and ultimately to assassinate Adolf Hitler. They all knew what this would mean if they were caught. Many of them were detained, interrogated, tortured. And some were executed. Bonhoeffer, one of his brothers, and two brothers-in-law, were all killed just weeks before the end of the war. [For a more complete timeline, go here.]
Bonhoeffer, a brilliant intellect with a promising career, born in privilege, cast it all aside to follow his conscience and his God. The price he paid was his earthly life.
Bonhoeffer’s radical obedience reminded me today of another disciple who left everything to follow Jesus. In a post last summer [“Ballast or Dead Weight?”, which you can read here], I shared a passage from Mark Buchanan’s book, Hidden in Plain Sight, about virtue in the life of a Christ-follower. It still haunts me, and I think it’s worth sharing again, so here’s an excerpt from that post:
At several points in the book, Buchanan has included a lovely piece of creative writing, a “sanctified imagination” kind of meditation on the life of the apostle Peter. The first one, written first person in the voice of the apostle James, describes one of the apostles’ earliest encounters with Jesus (see Luke 5:1-11).
It was the day Jesus co-opted Peter’s boat for a pulpit, and then suggested a deep sea fishing trip. The fishermen had just spent a long, unproductive night on the water and in fact had just finished cleaning their nets. But Peter reluctantly agrees to go out again anyway. Buchanan’s beautiful prose continues through the miraculous catch, and Peter’s throwing himself at Jesus’ feet: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus tells him not to be afraid; from now on he will catch men.
And then the writer pulls the rug out from under my feet, because he describes something I have never pictured, in all the years I’ve read this story:
“And as soon as He said it, we knew He meant right now. He meant for us to choose before we landed, no waiting, no talking. Just decide.
Peter stood up and started tossing fish in the lake. We watched for a moment, then joined him. They hit the water stiff as wood, but after a few seconds they shook their tails, and dove. Those fish sank down in blackness, like fistfuls of silver we had to jettison in a storm.
But afterward, we felt light. Peter stepped ashore and started running.” (page 74)
I had to go back to Luke, shaking my head in doubt, in order to make sense of this image. And there it was:
“So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11)
Would fishermen leave a boatful of perfectly good fish to rot? Of course not. So what did they do with that miracle catch? They threw it back.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent time in England, and in America, at the outbreak of WWII. In both countries, he was urged by friends not to return to Germany. He wrestled with his decision, especially on his final trip to American in 1939. He felt God calling him to turn his back on safety, and to suffer with his countrymen. Earlier he had eschewed careers as either a professional musician or a university professor–both logical and lucrative choices–to be a pastor and writer. His family had been shocked.
” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24, J.B. Phillips New Testament
“Come and die.”
How is it that I dare to call myself a Christ-follower? Have I been called to give up something which seems to me like a lifeline, but which is in truth a millstone around my neck? Is there something I’m called to do which flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but is an act of obedience all the same?
And what do I do when I hear that call? Do I drop everything and follow? Or do I decide to keep fishing?