Chapter 8: Preliminary Questions

Luke 10:25-42

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’


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.

Crash Course: Marks of the Church

Bonhoeffer references “The Marks of the Church,” in this chapter, understanding them to be the proclamation of word and sacrament. Bonhoeffer does not make up this definition, but draws upon a founding document of the Lutheran tradition, the Augsburg Confession, Article 7, from 1530. ( “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” John Calvin, another pivotal reformer of the church, offers a similar definition in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (IV, 1, 9) from 1536, “These marks are the ministry of the word, and administration of the sacraments instituted by Christ. The same rule not to be followed in judging of individuals and of churches.”


Reflection Questions

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?