What exactly does it mean to “follow Jesus?” This question was the theme for our recent Church of the Good Shepherd annual parish retreat at the Kanuga Episcopal Conference Center in Hendersonville, N.C. The weekend is devoted to fellowship, good food and rest. In addition, we consider in conversation, gatherings and worship, something about Jesus. Using the Matthew 4:19 imperative from Jesus, “follow me,” we spent some time unpacking those two words, with the goal not so much as to find a concrete answer, but to bring the words into conversation and hear where each of us were on the journey of that “following.”
For the past 2,000 years, those two words have caused a lot of conversation and a lot of ink has been spilled by folks offering their opinion on the “real meaning.” Knowing that fact, it came as no surprise to me when, in one of our group sessions, I asked those gathered to give one-word responses. I started getting writer’s cramp jotting down the responses as I filled up a 30-inch page of easel paper. It quickly became clear that people are in different places as they follow Jesus. What I had hoped from our session was common ground where we could start, restart or continue our walk with Jesus as we follow him throughout our lives.
With this goal in mind, I invited the group to pick out one of the disciples and become him. They were then to take that role and observe what Jesus did during those three years they were together. We came up with what we felt were fundamental concepts in Jesus’ daily life.
Jesus was a magnificent teacher. He used wonderful stories and head-scratching parables to tell the people about the Kingdom of Heaven. One only has to read a little way after Jesus calls the disciples to find great teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, which follows in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.
Jesus didn’t just teach with words, he taught by example. By washing the disciples’ feet in the upper room on the night before he died, he showed them that he was willing to humble himself as a servant to them in love and humility. Of course, his greatest example was that he was willing to die a horrible death to save the world.
Our group concluded that God became incarnate in Jesus so that the collective “we” in following him would become like Jesus and emulate his qualities in our own lives. Humans have a great capacity to role model. As I was growing up, I wanted to be like my cowboy heroes. As a surgical resident, I wanted to be like the talented master surgeons who trained me.
In order to follow Jesus, we, as did the disciples, must spend a lot of time with him. In that day-by-day time together something wonderful will happen – God will be restored in our lives, and we will be recreated.
The Rev. Joe Bowden is the assisting priest at Church of the Good Shepherd.