Dear Sisters and Brothers,
These days we walk outdoors for health and relaxation, but for most of history people have walked because they had no other choice. Even people with horses walked a great deal and most people weren’t wealthy enough to have horses, donkeys, oxen, camels or any of the other beasts of burden. For thousands of years, farmers walked behind their plows, and walked to weed and harvest. Most of the things in your house were things you carried from great distance. In many places people carried water home from distant wells. People would walk to rivers to clean their clothes.
Twenty years ago, I served as pastor of a Slovak Lutheran church. One of our elderly members had grown up helping with his father’s window repair business, not far from Moravia. As a teenager, he would wear a wood frame on his back that carried the sort of small window panes that were common then. It was a heavy pack and they walked wherever they were going because they lived in the Carpathian mountains and the trails were steep. He said he never asked how far they would be walking so he wouldn’t get discouraged. He just followed his Dad to work and back home.
Today’s passage from the first chapter of Mark, also has to do with walking and following someone’s lead:
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
There are different ways of getting where you are going whether you walk or drive. First, there are maps you can buy that give you much more information than you need to know. Secondly, someone can give you verbal or written step-by-step directions, but if you make a wrong turn you can become very lost. Thirdly, in this modern world you can have a GPS unit or cell phone that makes direction easier by identifying your location from moment to moment. Then comes having a passenger who knows the way well. The only things that are better than any of these options is to have someones say “follow me” ( when you’re on foot) or “Let me drive” (when you are in a car).
When Jesus called the first disciples, he could have given them a detailed and complicated plan. He could have told them the dates that he was going to be passing through different town, and how to get there. He might have even given them tasks to do or things to learn on the way. If he had drawn a map for them of a walking journey that wound its way around the Galilee, through other territories, and on to Jerusalem, they would have been rightfully overwhelmed. Someone even might have pointed out that he was proposing a walk of more than a thousand miles to get to a city only 120 miles away. And this was to be done with home-made sandals on dirt roads.
But Jesus does not tell the disciples, “do this”or “go there,” he said “follow me.” It was still hard to leave everything behind, but those words were simple and sweet. When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” he is telling these four young men that they are not responsible for arriving at the destination.
The deeper truth is that the journey shapes the disciple more than a much straighter path to Jerusalem. There will be uncounted hours of talking on the road, hundreds of meals and nights spent in the company of Jesus. And what the disciples hear are lessons over and over again until they start changing the ways they think and appreciate the world and people around them. This slow walk through lessons, healings, miracles, debate, and confusion, are no doubt accompanied with a fair amount of tears, laughter, and soul-searching. And there are the greater numbers that join after the four. Later, there will be twelve young apostles, and a larger group of men and women who walk wherever Jesus leads. Yes, there are a few short boat trips around across the Galilee (which is comparable to the size of Mille Lacs in Minnesota, or Lake Tahoe in Nevada) but mostly it is on foot in weather conditions similar to northern Mexico.
The best way to travel with Jesus is still a step at a time. You take in what he says bit by bit so that it has the possibility of enlightening your mind to new possibilities. It is good to wrestle with what Jesus says and does… as the disciples did. Through this whole journey, we follow Jesus and pay attention to his example. Each day carries the words “Follow me.” Since Jesus knows where we are going, we can ponder more important things. After all, the most important thing on any long trip is not your ultimate destination (which is usually a return to home), but who you travel with.
Jesus leads us on unexpected paths and helps us to trust him more and more as we follow.
The question of destination is important in a different way than you might think. When Jesus said, “follow me” to the four young fishermen, did he mean “follow me to Jerusalem,” or “follow me to Gethsemane,” or “follow me to Easter,” or “follow me until you die?” No, because Jesus means “follow me forever.” Because even when we get to the kingdom of heaven, it still isn’t about the destination, but it is completely about who leads the way and who is walking with us.