Was not the experience of the disciple who heard Jesus’ call from his own lips different than ours, who listen for Jesus’ call through the distance of scripture and the teachings of the church? Bonhoeffer tackles this question head on in this brief chapter. Should we fall trap to the belief that the experience of call was somehow different when Jesus was alive than it is now, then we would be betraying a belief that Jesus does not yet live, that the resurrection did not lead us to the Risen Lord.
But where do we find Christ today, when he is not physically standing before us? Bonhoeffer argues that the surest place to encounter the living Jesus is in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the celebration of the sacraments—that is to say, through the Church, the living Body of Christ.
Certainly there is some uncertainty in discerning Jesus’ call when listening for it in scripture, preaching, or sacrament as compared to Jesus speaking to us himself! Bonhoeffer asserts that there is no more uncertainty for us than there was for the first disciples. The only thing unambiguous about Jesus’ call is that it always has a single purpose, that it “demands faith from an undivided heart, and love of God and neighour with all our heart and soul.” Everything beyond that is ambiguous only in that it requires us to have faith and obedience in order to recognize Christ as the one who speaks our name.
The disciples on the lake shore did not recognize Jesus from any other religious teacher until they obeyed his command in faith. Only then did they recognize that it was the Lord who called them. So it has been with disciples to this day.
When have you had the experience of recognizing Jesus’ presence within the Church?
What was it about that moment that made you aware that Christ was before you?
Why do you think that Bonhoeffer puts an emphasis on experiencing Christ’s presence and call through the community, teachings, and ministrations of the Church? What might be the opportunities or risks of discerning such a thing alone?