Saturday, January 5, 2013
A WORD FOR THE NEW YEAR
FOLLOWING THE SAVIOR
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. (John 1:35-39)
When I heard this passage at mass on Friday I was struck by the verb in verse 37: “They followed Jesus.” The word in Greek is akolouthein, and it is so rich with overtones and associations that I thought I’d reflect on it for awhile today and show how each of the meanings of the Greek word “to follow” adds something to our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
- In classical Greek akolouthein is the usual word for soldiers following their commander or leader for whom they are fighting.
- It is used for a slave or servant following or attending his master.
Sometimes it’s used for following or obeying someone else’s advice or opinion.
- It’s the word for following or obeying a law.
- The word also appears in the context of following the thread of someone’s argument, if you follow me.
Each of these uses suggests something about how we should go about following Christ; I like to throw them all together into my mental crock-pot and let them work together into a single forceful description about what is involved in truly following Christ. It goes something like this:
You have follow Christ with the determination and courage of a soldier following his commander into battle, with the willing obedience of a faithful servant, with the humility to follow his wise advice whatever it may be; you must live according to the laws of the Kingdom and listen attentively to the words of Jesus and follow their thread so as to arrive one day at wisdom.
Following Jesus is not a part-time job, but rather an all-encompassing, all-absorbing commitment.
Akolouthein occurs dozens of times in the New Testament., so I’ll confine myself to citing without comment a few that refer to the cost of following Jesus. Maybe one of them will have a message for you.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60But Jesus* said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ (Lk 9:59-62)
Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Lk 5:10-11)
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Mt 16:24)
THE “SO WHAT?” OF CHRISTMAS
In this post-Christmas season the Church presents us over and over with the practical import of Christ’s incarnation, with what it means for us in our everyday lives. This rich concept of “following” Jesus is sure to provide lots of good, practical ideas no matter how many times I go back to it.