Are you a follower? In our day most would certainly need to respond that they are followers since they follow hundreds of different people on social media. But you could easily turn around and discuss how many people are following you. The truth is we may both be following hundreds of people we don’t really know and have hundreds who follow us that we wouldn’t know if they walked into the room. Imagine reading Jesus commands to “Follow me” in light of all the ways we discuss following someone in our time. Would his command fit at all with how we use the word today? I don’t think we would see it the same way.
Jesus was making a huge challenge to everyone who considered discipleship with him. If you think of him calling people to become fishers of men who had been fishing for fish it was a massive change involved. Imagine Peter and Andrew, James and John all out on the Sea of Galilee. It started with the use of Peter’s boat as a teaching platform. Peter and likely Andrew had fished all night without catching a single fish. Then Jesus borrowed the boat to talk with the people. After his sermon he told Peter to cast out into the deep where he could get a catch of fish. Peter launched out into the deep water saying he had fished all night and caught nothing, “Nevertheless, when Peter put out his nets they became so full of fish he was having trouble getting them back into the boat. When Peter realized what had happened he fell before Jesus in the bow of the boat among all the fish saying. “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.” Jesus said to him and Andrew and later to James and John, “Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Later he was beside the Sea of Galilee where Matthew had his tax office. As he was sitting among the people collecting the taxes Jesus challenged him to follow him. He left the tax table and prepared a great feast for Jesus, inviting all his tax collector friends. When he was criticized by the religious leaders for eating with these tax collectors and sinners Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy that need a physician but those who are sick. He challenged them by pointing out that you can’t put new wine into old wineskins or a new patch on an old garment or the new wine will begin to expand and burst the wineskins or the patch will draw up and tear way from the old garment. His teaching and actions wouldn’t fit the wineskins of the Old Law or the attitudes of the religious leaders of the time.
Imagine what would have entered the mind of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew when they heard the charge from Jesus to “Follow me.” Would they have thought this to be some casual following that meant to check up every few weeks to see what he had posted on Facebook? Would they have seen his request as a small change that wouldn’t affect their life very much? I think it would have been miles from such an attitude. They knew this rabbi was calling them to a totally changed life. They knew they were changing their whole way of thinking and acting in the world. They were leaving behind family, friends, neighbors and setting out on a mission that would change their whole lives.
In Luke 9:57-62 there is a great discussion of following Jesus. “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Think of each of these for a moment. The first obviously was ready to make a commitment without understanding the depth of the commitment. He would follow Jesus everywhere. But Jesus didn’t want anyone making a strong commitment to him who didn’t know what he was saying. So, he made it clear that following him involved a strong commitment. It meant living without many of the conveniences of life. It meant putting him ahead of other things of life. It often meant going where there wasn’t a comfortable house or bed or even a good meal to share.
Jesus turned to the second to say “Follow me.” He obviously saw in the man a great potential to serve him and be with him. The very fact he challenged him to follow him probably means he felt he was ready to turn his back on the world and the pull of the world and set out as one of the apostles to follow him. But he needed to do something first. “Let me first go and bury my father.” Most likely this was a case of a dad who had died some months earlier and they were waiting for the time they could dig him up and retrieve the bones to put them into an ossuary to preserve the bones. So when Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you follow me” it wasn’t the idea that he couldn’t take off for a few hours for the burial of his father. It was the notion of waiting for a year or so after his death to dig up the bones to rebury them. Following Jesus was never intended to be something one did when he got around to it. It was the priority of life. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
The third man was ready to follow but needed to go tell the family good bye. It was a delay. It was a loss of priority. It was like trying to hire someone for a job and them saying how anxious they are to work for you but can they wait for three months while they take a trip with their family. Jesus response was to tell him he missed it altogether. One who puts their hand to the plough and looks back isn’t fit for the kingdom.
When Jesus calls us to follow him it is huge. He is calling us for a life, a passion and a mission. He is calling us to take on his image. We have no idea how Jesus looked physically. But we can take on his image in love, in compassion, in grace and kindness. We can care about people the way he does and always see in people possibilities they don’t see for themselves. The world needs tons of people who are like Jesus, who follow him in everything. Are you ready to follow him?