Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Following Jesus

"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." Matthew 9:9

For many of us, the concept of "following" someone involves being with them, listening to them, hanging around them. If someone came to me and said, "Follow me", and I decided to follow them, I wouldn't consider a commitment made or my life changed. It would be the equivalent of, "Come, check this out." or "Get to know me and see what you think." We are a culture of people followers - from Oprah to our favorite rock star. In fact, Twitter makes it possible to actually follow celebrities, politicians and motivational speakers. We don't have a sense of loyalty to these people, though. Once they preach something we don't approve of, or the next big act comes along, we move on to bigger and better things.

In the first century Jewish world following someone, specifically a rabbi, meant something altogether different. When Jesus invited his disciples to follow Him, they understood that He was inviting them to leave their old lives behind them, to commit to learning from Him in order to become like Him. They were to adopt His ways, His habits, to take on His character. Such an invitation by a rabbi was an honor, not something that was loosely offered. Disciples were hand picked with great care. The process demanded commitment and dedication on both sides.

For a disciple, following a rabbi meant walking close, even physically close, to him every day of their lives. This concept is illustrated in the 1970 film version of The Fiddler on the Roof. As one of my favorite movies, I have watched it repeatedly. It took me a while to understand why, in the scenes that involved the rabbi of the small village, he was always surrounded by a group of men who crowded so closely to him, he could barely walk. The commitment to walk closely with the rabbi is literal. There is a blessing given to new disciples, “May you always be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” Disciples were honored to walk so closely to their rabbi that as dust flew up from his footsteps, it would land on them.

It is important to understand, when Jesus asks us to follow Him today, He is speaking of this manner of following. As the rabbi, as Lord, as God, He sets the terms.

Tomorrow, I will share how I first heard Jesus' call to follow Him. I knew absolutely nothing and in no way deserved His call, but Jesus always called His disciples according to their need and His love for them. Good thing, too.


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