Saturday, June 22, 2013


Scene One. Daytime. Interior shot. The lobby of St. Benedict's Prep is deadly quiet because school is out for the summer.  Sitting on one of the two old wooden church benches is Henry, waiting to speak with the Assistant Headmaster. He has received a letter telling him that because of his abysmal lack of performance and lack of cooperation he is no longer welcome in the school. He has come to plead his case. 

Henry's problem is not that he is intellectually incapable of doing the work -- in fact it's just the opposite. He is being asked to leave because he has not made any effort either in the classroom or by contributing to other activities in the life of the school. He has done almost no homework the past semester and settled for D’s and F’s on tests, was constantly late for school, and has been involved in no school activities. He just can’t manage to get himself connected to the place  -- or to his own life. Even sitting on the bench it is evident that Henry has no passion, urgency or enthusiasm in his life.


Scene Two. Cut to this morning (Saturday). Albert is sitting in the silent church at 5:30 in front of the Blessed Sacrament studying tomorrow’s gospel and praying over it. 

"Come, follow me!"
The passage includes the phrase “take up your cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23).The Greek word for “follow,” akolouthein is one of my old “friends” from New Testament Greek. (Author's note:I think akolouthein is still feeling insulted that I didn’t include it in my book of Greek verbs, Walking in Valleys of Darkness, so I’ll try to make amends in this post.)

Akolouthein is an everyday word that means “follow,” but its many associations and connotation make it a rich source of meditation for a Christian intent on “following” Christ. (Years ago I gleaned from William Barclay’s New Testament Words the list below, which I now have in my head.)

1. In classical Greek akolouthein is the normal word for soldiers following their leader in battle.

2. It is the verb used for a slave following or attending upon his master. (By the way, this is where our liturgical word “acolyte” comes from; picture people in surplices carrying candles and following the priest around.) In Victorian novels the villain often has evil "acolytes" with him.

Plato and his "followers"
3. Plato in The Republic uses akolouthein in speaking about people who follow or obey the leader’s advice or opinion.

4. It’s used for obeying or following a particular law. To follow the laws is to accept them as the standard of life and behavior.

5. It is also used for following the thread of a discourse or an argument, if you follow me.

6. In ancient usage akolouthein could mean attaching yourself to someone in order to extract a favor from him, like the stock character of the "sycophant" in a classical Greek drama.


Scene Three. Same. Since, as I said, akolouthein is an old acquaintance, I had all of these meanings in my head as I began asking myself how well I “follow” Christ. They added up to quite an unsettling  questionnaire!

1. Do I follow Christ loyally into battle like a soldier following his commanding officer, or do I sometimes turn tail and run?  

2. Do I follow Jesus like a servant, always ready to do his bidding, or do I drag my feet at times and shirk my responsibilities?

3. Do I ask for Jesus’ advice and guidance and have the humility to follow it? How often do I follow my own lights instead?

4. Am I willing to follow the laws of the Kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus, or do I sometimes make up my own laws?

5. Am I a learner and a listener following carefully the thread of Christ's teaching? Or do I sometimes get distracted by other things and miss the point of His lesson?

Akolouthein is Jesus’ word of challenge to his disciples: Follow me! He uses it at the seaside when he calls his first disciples away from their fishing nets; he says it as a final command to Peter, again at the seaside after the resurrection (Jn 21:19, 22). The most common use of the verb refers to the crowds that followed Jesus. 

And finally, we all know what happened when he said it to the rich young man in Matthew (Ch 19:16 ff)… The rich young man turned away and refused to follow...YIKES! That's me!


Scene Four. Flashback to Henry on bench in lobby. 

Scene Five. Flashback to Albert still sitting on bench in church. Suddenly I realized that to Jesus I often must look like Henry sitting on that bench in the lobby: Unable to get enthused, unwilling to do what it takes to be a wholehearted follower of Christ! My self- questionnaire about being a true “follower” had plunked me down next to that listless sophomore who was uninvolved and unenthusiastic about the project of being a student in our school.

Scene Six. Fade slowly into dream sequence. School lobby. The lighting is golden bright and ethereal, harp music plays in background as wispy clouds drift in front of the camera. It is Judgement Day. Albert, sitting on the old wooden bench waiting to plead his case with Jesus, is going over in his head his various excuses for not having followed Christ more closely. 

Scene closes as camera moves in for a closeup of Albert's right hand. His fingers are crossed.  

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