A couple of Sundays ago, I was in church and heard a sermon that really resonated with me. The scripture basis was Matthew 4:12-23—when Jesus invited two fishermen to follow him and “fish for people.” Now, this is a story that I’ve heard preached from the pulpit on numerous occasions, read on my own at least as many times, and even lead Bible studies on. The faith and trust of the disciples is nothing less than extraordinary—that much is obvious. However, I can’t seem to stop thinking about the story’s other implications.
At one point, the pastor said something along the lines of, “If Jesus showed up in the pulpit this morning and said, ‘follow me,’ we’d listen to him.” He said this to exemplify the absolute faith of the disciples—who knew little or nothing of Jesus but followed him anyway. Obviously, we are in a much better starting position in regards to knowing about Jesus and his good works. However, my first thought upon hearing this was, “Would we? Really?” After all, Jesus’ message to us in the scripture is pretty straightforward:
- “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.” (Matthew 5:44)
- “If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)
- “Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you.” (Matthew 7:1)
- “Treat others as you want them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12)
- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Again, Jesus is pretty clear about what he asks of his followers. Yet far too often we limit ourselves to following him when it’s convenient, comfortable, or easy. Is that a little harsh? Probably. However, I’m rather fond of the quote by John Wesley—questioning whether he’d even preached the Gospel if he wasn’t kicked out of town immediately after he spoke. I believe that there is incredible truth in this. After all, what Jesus asks of us is both incredibly challenging and often difficult to hear. He is asking us to make radical changes to our lives and the way in which we treat others. This is best exemplified by the words of Jesus himself; however, I believe Woodie Guthrie and Shane Claiborne do an excellent job modernizing the sentiment: “‘If Jesus preached in New York what he preached in Galilee, we’d lay him in his grave again’ (especially if he did it on Wall Street).”
Naturally, our gifts and abilities vary and result in a different call for each of us; however, at the same time, each of us can do more and do better. Studies indicate there is little difference between Christians and non-Christians in terms of giving and volunteerism (Barefoot Church, page 100; Brandon Hatmaker). This should bother Christians. While there are plenty of non-Christians being incredibly generous—donating their time and money, society as a whole could be doing much more, and Christians should be leading the way. We are called to follow Jesus, which means making a commitment to live differently. Today, far too often, when people think of Christians, they reference one of the Church’s failures rather than the love and compassion of their Christian neighbor. If that’s not indicative of our need to do better, I don’t know what is.
For the record, I don’t claim to have it all figured out. If nothing else, my year of service has reminded me of my own flaws. When it comes down to it, I’m stubborn, impatient, cranky when tired or hungry, overly opinionated, and often uncomfortable with change. If you asked my family and friends, I’m sure they could expand upon that list. However, I’m aware of these shortcomings, what is being asked of me, and how I need to evolve to better follow Jesus. Most importantly, I’m trying. Moving forward, I invite you to join me in being intentional about tiptoeing (or leaping) out of your comfort zone and following Jesus—even (especially) when it’s hard.