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Dead Man Walking

July 28, 2012

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. “ Luke 9:23-24

Dead Man Walking is the title of a book written by a Roman Catholic nun, Helen Prejean, later made into an award winning movie, about her relationship with death row inmate Matthew Poncelet.  The phrase, “Dead Man Walking,”  describes Poncelet as a living person who was condemned to death for committing murder.  It could also be used to describe prisoners executed by the Romans in the first century, who were required to carry the cross upon which they would be crucified, to the place where they would be killed.

We generally think of “carrying a cross,” as holding up under life’s challenges and disappointments– but Jesus meant much more than that when he spoke these words to his disciples long before his own death on the cross.  When Jesus told his disciples that one of the three requirements of following him was to “take up his cross daily,” he intended to communicate to them that following him would be costly.  In fact, it could (and did) cost them their lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was condemned to death for his involvement in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler during World War II.  He was intimately familiar with costly discipleship; he carried his cross to his death in 1945.  Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship, whichwas published in 1937, before his arrest and imprisonment.  In that book he wrote that cheap grace is the “is the grace we bestow on ourselves . . . grace without discipleship” but

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and 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 man the only true life. . .  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Jesus’ call to discipleship is not an easy call to accept.  It requires us to put aside our selfish desires, and to commit daily to using our money, talents, abilities, time and other resources in pursuit of God’s truth and to love and help others.  It often means leaving our comfort zones to reach out to those in need.  We are challenged by the call to discipleship, but we are also comforted knowing that God’s plan for us is much better than any that we could devise for ourselves.  It is never too late to make a commitment to follow Jesus.  The thief on the cross next to Jesus, whose story has inspired millions to come to faith, is the only person who Jesus ever told directly that he would be with Him in heaven.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan, July 28, 2012

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