It was an honest and sincere question at the end of a sermon. ‘but what do you mean when you talk about “following Jesus”, I pray, I fast, I spend time with God…do you mean something different?’
On the one hand, the answer was, ‘you are following’, but to be honest I suspected this answer would not satisfy me even if it did her. But if not, what did I mean…?
I thought later, I should have said…’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbour as yourself’. In so far as ‘following’ means following ‘commands’ that would have been a good answer – actually the ‘greatest’ there is.
The more I thought, though, the more I realised that when I talk about following Jesus I have a further thought in my mind. This thought is that to follow Jesus means matching our own experience to the experience of Jesus and the disciples as recounted in the gospels. It is to have our story mapped to their story, our narratives shaped by theirs.
This is a gospel story following rather than only command following. It means working out in our context what the equivalent is to what Jesus and the disciples did in their context.
So for me – being a follower means being willing to keep ‘bad’ company (tax collectors and sinners) because that is part of the gospel narrative story of Jesus and the disciples. The story and the events and not just the teaching matter as expressions of what the gospel looks like in concrete form.
In the passages I had been preaching from Jesus has taken his disciples to the land of the Gerasenes to confront a chaotic wild unclean man from the tombs of death. Thus to follow Jesus means more than that he might get you out of chaos (the preceding ‘with Christ in the vessel you can smile at the storm’ events) but rather following Jesus can actually lead you into situations of chaos for the sake of God’s commission, compassion, and call (bit of traditional alliteration there!).
I am thankful for her question. It helped me understand again how I view the gospel narratives and the ‘way of Jesus’ as well as the ‘teaching of Jesus’ as important for showing what i means to follow.