Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What it Means to Follow Jesus? A Little Help from John

I don't remember knowing that Andrew, one of Jesus' disciples, was first one of John the Baptizer's disciples.  Chalk it up to my usual pattern of paying little attention to details.

The Gospel of John describes the scene.  John the Baptizer was with two of his disciples and saw Jesus coming their way.  He said, so that his two disciples heard, "Look, the Lamb of God!", which would have certainly reminded them of the stories they learned about the exodus from Egypt;  that is, liberation and freedom.  Then almost quietly, certainly without fanfare, the two disciples leave John to follow Jesus. We learn a little later that one of them is Andrew, and the other one is unnamed - probably, he is the writer of the Gospel.

But if all I learn is that Andrew was first a disciple of John before he was a disciple of Jesus, I'd be missing something else.  The Gospel is not so much concerned with the names, as it is concerned with helping us understand what it means to follow Jesus.  We spent some time Sunday morning in our P1:6 Bible Study asking ourselves that question.  What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Certainly, in one important respect, following Jesus also involves leaving something.  John's two disciples left him to follow the Lamb of God. We learn from other places in the other Gospels that the disciples when they were called left "everything" and followed Jesus. We learn also that anyone who wants to wait first for his or her father or mother to live the rest of their lives and then to attend to family affairs after they die is not ready to be a disciple - it takes our full and undivided attention.  But, of course, to follow isn't just the leaving of something behind, it is the movement toward someone who promises that he has come to bring us life and life to the full (John 10).

In this moment in the beginning of the Gospel we are introduced to an important word:  to follow.  For the disciples in this moment it merely means a movement toward Jesus.  But as the disciples travel with Jesus he will add layer upon layer of meaning.  Until we get to the very end of the Gospel, where in the last chapter we are given an image of what it ultimately means for every one of us.

In that last chapter, Peter is approached by Jesus by the Sea after he was resurrected from the dead.  The encounter happens not only after the resurrection, but after Peter has denied Jesus three times, the last time rather vehemently.  And so this moment is Jesus' way of restoring Peter, making him whole again by clearly forgiving him.  Along with Peter we are invited to consider more deeply than ever what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" And Peter says, "Yes, I love you." And then Jesus responds, "Then feed my sheep." Three times this happens, until Peter feels hurt and says definitively - as definitively as his denial - "Yes!  You know all things. You know that I love you!" But this time Jesus doesn't stop with, "Then feed my sheep." He goes on to say this:  Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

So,does that clear things up?  Maybe not in the precise way we'd like. Like so many things Jesus says, it's not intended to remove all the questions, to spell out all the details, so that all we have to do is implement the plan and check off the pre-fab list.  Jesus rather invites us into a relationship where the travel is as important as the destination, where the learning is as important as the revelation.

Hmmm...that may be one way to express what it means to follow Jesus.  Doggone it.  It was easier just to learn that Andrew was first John's disciple before he was Jesus'

If you want to learn more about the P1:6 Bible Study, check out the link.