“What does Jesus say about all that? He says ‘Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them’. The call to be extraordinary is the great, inevitable danger of discipleship. Therefore, beware of this extraordinariness, of the way discipleship becomes visible…If you do good, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. You should not know your own goodness…The genuine deed of love is always hidden to myself. Pay heed that you do not know it.”
Reading Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship during this election season has challenged me to consider my own tendency toward self-righteousness. It has also revealed the blind spots in my own life of faith, in the Christian communities and institutions that are a part of my world. All of the indignation directed at the political process, all of the understandable anger directed at the incoming administration, takes the focus off of the tree growing in my own eye. How much of the current political rhetoric is self-serving? I can’t help but wonder: Are we willing to give up our positions of privilege, the very privilege that allows us to express our anger, the privilege that provides a platform from which to speak out? Is it even possible to untangle the selfish, self-serving, ideology from a genuine love for our neighbor? I’m not sure.
Bonhoeffer believes the life of discipleship originates outside of our agendas, our strategies, and our programs. The call of Christ is the only foundation for the Christian community, it is the nearly impossible task of loving our neighbor without knowing we’ve done so. It is the impossible task of enacting justice and mercy without actually setting out to do so. In other words, the Christian life does not serve our careers, our institutions, or our reputations. We don’t get to transform pious rhetoric about the Kingdom of God into slick marketing campaigns. I don’t get to publicly show concern for my students so I can demonstrate my cultural IQ or my contemporary brand of hipster Christianity. Instead, Christ calls me into the insecurity of simple obedience where the right hand does not know what the left is doing. Christ calls all of us into a way of life that loves people, not to serve some higher agenda, but because it’s what we do. We don’t have to think about it, we don’t have to do a cost / benefit analysis, we simply live, and in our living we love.
“Beware—it says—that you do not mistake genuine love for the virtue of kindness or for a human ‘quality’!…Love as the deed of simple obedience is death to the old self and the self’s discovery to exist now in the righteousness of Christ and in one’s brothers and sisters.”