(This article was first published in the Frankfort State Journal, Feb. 2, 2018)
In the Gospel texts that tell the story of Jesus one thing is undeniable. Jesus called disciples. Do you ever wonder why Jesus said, “Follow me,” but never said, “Worship me”?
He said to some fishermen, “Follow me and I will teach you how to fish for people.” For whatever reason he invited them to walk away from their vocation of trying to lure fish into a net, and pursue a calling that would involve luring people into a greater purpose and cause that Jesus called the kingdom of God.
I like to call it the kin-dom of God, because it’s all about loving relationships. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will teach you how to love God with the totality of your being and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matt. 22-34-40). This is grounded in the reality that we are all connected and constitute one family. (See Acts 17:22-31 where Paul tells the Athenian philosophers that we are “all God’s offspring” and that “in God we live, move, and have our existence.”)
Jesus says, “Follow me and I will teach you how to heal people’s brokenness and liberate them from the life-demeaning, life-diminishing forces that oppress and hold them in fear and bondage. As you heal and liberate others, you will also be healed and liberated from your own false attachments, addictions, and sins.” (Almost all the healing and exorcism stories in the Gospels teach this.)
When we follow Jesus we discover the honesty and humility to face our own sins (greed, pride, prejudice, selfish ambition, etc.), and the courage to confront the destructive “isms” at loose in our world (sexism, racism, nationalism, materialism, elitism, etc.) and the policies and systems of injustice that we are all complicit in. (Consider in the Gospels how often Jesus exposed and confronted the injustices of the system, provoking the powers that be.)
Jesus says, “Follow me and I will teach you how to see so you can help others as well as yourself step out of the darkness of pride, prejudice, and hate into the light of humility, belonging, and love for all people” (see especially John 9).
Jesus says, “Follow me and I will teach you how to break down the walls that divide us and treat everyone with dignity, respect, mercy, and grace.” Jesus was constantly in trouble with the religious leaders because he was so inclusive, welcoming all people to the table of fellowship.
Consider the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The story is told in response to a fellow Jew who asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In the story a Samaritan, who is of a different religion and race, shows mercy to a Jew, in contrast to two Jewish religious leaders who walk past the victimized man without stopping to help.
If Jesus were to tell this story to us today, the good neighbor would not be a Samaritan, but a Muslim. Let this sink in. Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists (pick any non-Christian religious group) who love others as themselves are doing the will of God, while Christians who exclude, hate, and build walls of division are not.
Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12). What if we formulated and implemented an immigration policy based on love of neighbor and the golden rule. It most certainly would be vastly different from the merciless, unjust policies and practices flowing out of our current administration.
Unlike those today who preach a gospel of getting (getting heaven, getting rich, getting all one’s desires fulfilled, etc.), Jesus modeled a life and preached a gospel of giving (Matt. 20:20-28). Luke describes an early community of Jesus followers this way: “Now the whole group of those who believed [that is, were committed to the way of Jesus] were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. . . . There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:32, 34-35).
What if our legislators put together a tax code based on that practice? Or even one that gave some consideration to the principles and practices of mercy and restorative justice? What we got is a tax overhaul that expands further the huge disparity between the really well-to-do and those not-so-well-off. The most vulnerable among us are left to scramble for the crumbs that trickle down from the rich man’s table (see Luke 16:19-31).
It’s easy to say prayers and sing songs to a Jesus “high and lifted up.” It’s much more difficult to love like Jesus in the daily grind of life. No doubt about it. It’s much easier to worship Jesus than to follow Jesus. Is there any doubt what the Christ wants of us?