“Follow me”. Two words spoken frequently by Jesus to many people in many different situations. We most often associate it with his calling of his disciples. Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Phillip. All received these words in a very direct and compelling way. Their response was dramatic and life-changing as they left everything they knew (e.g. fishing and the sea) and set off with Jesus.
Similarly a rich, young ruler also heard these words in a very well known exchange with Jesus when he was seeking the answer to finding eternal life.After a very deep and sincere exchange, Jesus finally said to him:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Matthew 19:21
These life changing exchanges are recorded multiple times by all of the gospel writers further underlying the impact of those who heard and obeyed the exhortation to follow. In fact the Greek word translated as “follow” in these “follow me” statements expresses an urgency. A “come now!” imperative implying forgetting everything else and changing the direction of your life. This is further illustrated in exchanges with Jesus where some hearers of these words asked for more time, explaining that they first needed to go bury their father or say good-bye to their family (Luke 9:57-62). Jesus is not moved by these excuses by saying:
“Let the dead bury their own dead” and “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Of course, probably the most well known “Follow me” statement by Jesus is recorded by all four gospel writers:
“anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:38
Anyone hearing these words knew exactly what they meant. The Roman occupiers of Judea regularly crucified people along the roadsides so the concept was very familiar. Following Jesus would cost you your life. Follow me indeed! No small thing.
Unfortunately this extreme understanding of following Jesus often dominates our thinking when we hear these words. It can be intimidating to even consider if we are taking the dramatic steps necessary to be obedient to them. Alternatively, we can use the severity of this expectation as an excuse to do nothing. However, while in no way should we minimize this ultimate cost of being a follower of Jesus by examining ourselves regularly to ensure we are living this way, there is another use of the term that is much less extreme but no less impactful. John, said to be his closest disciple, recorded these words of Jesus:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” – John 12:26
The Greek word translated “follow” in these passages has far less urgency and compulsion and suggests following in the way we would walk on a journey together with someone or simply be in the same location. In other words, if we are following in this sense we will ensure that we will be where Jesus is. Think about this in terms of Jesus lifestyle during the last three years of his life. He was constantly on the move. In Galilee, Jerusalem, Samaria, mountains and hillsides, lakes and streams, deserts and towns. If you wanted to follow him, it was necessary to physically inconvenience yourself to be where he was.
In our modern society, we are now able to “follow” people on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. It is possible to see and hear everything they say or do, assuming they post, tweet or broadcast it. It costs us nothing but a simple click on our favourite social media platform from the comfort of our own couch. Nothing invested on our end. Certainly not like the physical inconvenience it took to follow Jesus around the countryside and not even close to the extreme, cross-bearing response to the “Follow-me” imperative.
Perhaps it should not surprise us that it seems we live in a time where deep truths and meaningful relationships seem to be non-existent and attention spans are short. We move from one event to another almost effortlessly. One day the moral failures of Bill Cosby, the next day a horrific shooting and the next a viral video of an animal doing something cute. All consumed through our favourite electronic device (laptop, tablet or smart phone). Costs us nothing except the monthly bill on our data plan.
What then should we do? Do we need to do something extreme that looks like a cross? Perhaps yes but maybe simply start by doing something that inconveniences us. Instead of being a passive consumer of information, how about responding in writing or with words and taking a position? Maybe stop doing something or dispose of something that is interfering with your relationship with God or with others who are important to you? Is what you believe costing you anything? Is there any exchange in your life (cost for both parties) or are you just a consumer? Perhaps it is possible that the lack of deep truths and meaningful relationships is connected to this consumer mentality?
In all of this the words of Jesus call to us “Follow me”. Important things should be costly. Maybe not always cross-carrying costly but surely but at least inconvenient.