Jesus used a two-word phrase most often when engaging people. It was a simple, yet profound, challenge. Follow me. Jesus uses this challenge; follow me, at least 12 times in the gospel stories.
- When Jesus first saw Peter, and later Philip, his challenge was – follow me and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.
- When Jesus met the rich young ruler, his challenge – sell all your possessions and follow me.
- He told his followers – take up your cross and – follow me.
- He described his followers as sheep – who follow him.
- He challenged Peter, after Peter had denied Jesus – follow me.
Again, and again, and again Jesus uses this simple, yet profound challenge – follow me. As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth.
“‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.”
-Matthew 9:9 (NLT)
When a rabbi said “follow me,” he wasn’t simply saying go this direction. It was a much deeper call than that. A rabbi was saying – I think you can be like me. This was more than simple recruitment, the meaning of the words – follow me – are a challenge to – be in the same way with me. A rabbi was telling his student, I think you have what it takes to become me.
Jesus was challenging Matthew to become like him. Matthew – a tax collector! Tax collectors were hated. So hated they had their very own category – tax collector’s and sinners. Tax collectors were considered so evil they weren’t even lumped in with sinners.
When Matthew chose to become a tax collector, he had to renounce his Jewish heritage. He was a Jew is name only. He could no longer go to the temple to make sacrifices. He chose Rome instead. He would be seen as a traitor. And he was far from God. When Jesus called Matthew he called a tax collector hated by everyone.
Jesus saw Matthew at the tax collector’s booth and invited him to follow. In that one moment, I believe, Matthew experienced extravagant grace – full and real. He was given another chance. Matthew found out – it didn’t matter what he had done or where he had been. Do a quick study comparing Matthew and Luke’s telling of Jesus’ encounter with Matthew.
In Luke’s gospel it says Jesus “saw a tax collector.” Immediately, the gut response would be anger, resentment, and disgust. But notice how Matthew records this same story. Matthew says, when Jesus saw him, Jesus “saw a man named Matthew.” Jesus saw past the façade. He saw beyond the career path. He saw more than poor choices and bad decisions. Jesus saw the man.
“Here is one of the greatest instances in the New Testament of Jesus’ power to see in a man, not only what he was, but also what he could be. No one ever had such faith in the possibilities of human nature as Jesus had.”
Matthew experienced a spiritual truth that day … God always meets us where we are and moves us along into deeper things.
After 2,000 years Jesus’ challenge hasn’t changed. It is simply…follow me. Jesus isn’t inviting us to join a lecture type class. This is an apprenticeship. There’s no need to get a notebook and paper; this is going to involve hands on learning. Follow me.
First century Jews had a blessing said over students of a rabbi – “May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi.” A rabbi would come into town, and closely following behind would be his group of students, doing their best to keep up with the rabbi as he went about teaching from one place to another. By the end of the day, after walking in the dirt directly behind the rabbi, the students would have the dust from his feet caked all over them.
“May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi.” May you find the dust of your rabbi in your moments of quiet reflection. May you find the dust of your rabbi settling on your life as you spend time serving those who have less; and may the dust of your rabbi infiltrate your life as you seek to run after Him. May the dust of your rabbi surround you and your life, so that the same dust left on you, will begin to cover the world around you.
Rick Court is the vice president of the board of directors at camp and is a pastor at Hope Church in Voorhees. Image credit: Shad Fox, via CreationSwap