When obedience is the opposite of obedience

I’m reading Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship with one of our church’s spiritual mothers (1Tim 5:2). We’re three chapters in and I’m sure this won’t be the last excerpt I post.

Here’s Bonhoeffer reflecting on Jesus’ command to the rich man to “go and sell your possessions”:

Obedience to the call of Jesus never lies within our own power. If, for instance, we give away all our possessions, that act is not in itself the obedience he demands. In fact such a step might be the precise opposite of obedience to Jesus, for we might then be choosing a way of life for ourselves, some Christian ideal, or some ideal of Franciscan poverty. Indeed in the very act of giving away his goods a man can give allegiance to himself and to an ideal and not to the command of Jesus. He is not set free from his own self but still more enslaved to himself. . .

The shocked question of the disciples “Who then can be saved?” seems to indicate that they regarded the case of the rich young man not as in any way exceptional, but as typical. For they do not ask: “Which rich man?” but quite generally, “Who then can be saved?” For every man, even the disciples themselves, belongs to those rich ones for whom it is so difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven. The answer Jesus gives showed the disciples that they had understood him well. Salvation through following Jesus is not something we men can achieve for ourselves–but with God all things are possible.

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