As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? Follow him to where and what kind of life?
It seems that these questions never entered the minds of the earliest followers. When they heard Jesus’ invitation, they simply got up and went. They dropped their fishing nets and followed. They even left family behind. And all for a stranger they had never met. Maybe his presence and charisma were enough to convince. Or maybe they could simply see heaven in his eyes. Whatever it was, those first followers did not hesitate. Except for one exception.
There is only one time in scripture when someone refused the offer to follow Jesus. The story appears in all three synoptic Gospels, which tells us that it probably did indeed happen as told.
The story goes that a rich man came to Jesus asking what he need to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gives him the condensed version of the Ten Commandments: Don’t murder or commit adultery; don’t lie, cheat, or steal; and honor your parents. When the man claims to have kept these commandments throughout his life, Jesus looked at the man with genuine love and said, “There is still one thing for you to do,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
This for me is one of the saddest moments in the Jesus story.
This story is often misunderstood to mean that to follow Jesus we must give all our money to the poor to be fit to follow him. But that interpretation misses the point. Jesus new that for the rich man, his relationship to money was an obstacle that prevented him from freely giving himself to the Gospel life. You might say that his wealth was his god. We see a lot of that in the world around us, right? Maybe we don’t have overattachment to money, but we may have other things in our life that imprison us and drive a wedge between us and God that prevents us from realizing the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever that might be for each of us is what Jesus asks us to put down. The point of parable of the rich young ruler is simply examine ourselves for that which keeps us from freely following Jesus with no strings attached.
How do we live the Gospel Life?
We need look no further than Matthew 25 to hear Jesus’ answer to that question: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was naked and you clothed me; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.
In our own Episcopal baptismal covenant each of us made a vow to ‘Proclaim the good news of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in every person; strive for justice and peace among all people; and respect the dignity of single human being.” This is yet another clear vision of what the Gospel Life looks like. And when say every person, all people, and every human being, that means EVERYBODY – no exceptions.
June is LGBTQI+ Pride month, which began after the Stonewall uprising that was in response to law enforcement aggression towards the gay community in 1969. Stonewall was a watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement and the twentieth-century fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Respect the dignity of every single human being.
On June 19th we will also observe Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday. On that day in 1865, some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive order.
Strive for Justice and peace among all people.
Jesus never promised us it would be easy, only that it would be worth it.
Jesus said the poor and suffering would always be with us, and boy was he right. We don’t have to look far to see it. He also told us what to do about it if we want to be his followers.
The rich young ruler that day was seeking eternal life. But I get the sense that what he didn’t understand was that the Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t just some place far off, but that it exists in the human heart. It was closer than he thought. Jesus said that not only was the Kingdom of Heaven around and about us, but he also said it was within us – each of us. It’s only a matter of awakening.
Let me respectfully remind you;
Life and Death are of supreme importance.
Time passes swiftly by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken … awaken … awaken.
Do not squander your life.
EVENING GATHA - BUDDHIST
So what does it mean to follow Jesus? I know what it means for me. What does it mean for you?