Just as my wife and I were praying, my four-year-old came up to her and said, “Mommy, Daddy is talking to you. It’s rude not to listen.” Comically, his interpretation of the situation was that I was speaking and my wife had her head down in sleep, and since he is often rebuked for not paying attention, it came all too natural for him.
I was reminded of that story as I reflected on Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, for the simple fact that it was based in ignorance, in the latter case regarding Jesus’ life and ministry. And like Peter, I have a hard time daily grasping that the call to follow Christ is a call to suffer and die (Matthew 16:22-23). One moment Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ (16:16), and the next moment he’s trying to correct the Lord about going to the cross.
There are a few things here, first of which is an encouragement when our minds and hearts as followers of Jesus are ignorant and we fail to see things rightly. The disciples saw great miracles when Jesus multiplied a few loaves of bread for thousands to eat, and then directly afterward wondered whether they had brought enough to eat for their journey. Jesus said, “Do you not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand… how is it that you fail to understand?” (16:9-10).
Even though we, like the disciples, fail to understand the plain teaching of our Lord, he is kind to restore us and patiently bear with us until we finally pick up what he’s putting down. He didn’t tell the disciples to get out of the boat and go home, nor was this the first time they failed to grasp his teaching. He corrected them gently, and led them on.
Davin’s death for me has meant a lot of questions and sorrow have gotten mixed together in my head without a clear answer. Lord, why would you let your servant die? He was faithful to you, and you crushed him. Why, Lord? But then there’s this gentle, encouraging rebuke from the text. ‘Eric, do you not yet understand that Davin lived the life he was called to live following Jesus? He denied himself, took up his cross, and followed me. That is the Christian life. Do you not yet see?’
And so, secondly, there is the call to follow Davin as he followed Christ. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 16:24-25).
Davin lost his life, and in so doing found it. He embraced his cancer, continued to serve Christ through it, and in the process set a flesh-and-blood pattern for the rest of us to follow. God is kind to correct my lack of understanding, in the midst of grief, to help me see, “This is the way it must be.”
One wished to arrive at answers that could stand up to every scrutiny because one would have to live out those conclusions. They would have to become actions and would have to become the substance of one’s life. Once one saw clearly what the Word of God said, one would have to act on it and its implications…
… Bonhoeffer was not interested in intellectual abstraction. Theology must lead to practical aspects of how to live as a Christian. (127, 29).
And so just as Davin’s theology led him to definite action in cancer and death, so we each have to live the life of Christ in the particular way he has called us. Deny thyself, suffer, and follow him, however he designs. I pray that his story continues to encourage and correct us when we wander in ignorance, and that through it Christ would be merciful to guide us homeward along the cruciform path he walks.