Where’s Your House, Jesus?
October 17, 2017
“Follow me, Grandpa.” that’s what I often hear from Rose or Mae, my twin three- year old granddaughters when one or both wants me to see something they have done, go outside and play with them, or get out the play dough. Follow me means come and see something or do something or discover something that they think is going to be pretty interesting.
I read this blog post recently by a woman named Christy Wood. She suggested that we put a little too much theological weight on those stories we read in the gospels where Jesus is gathering followers. She mentioned this story we just read, which has always struck me as a bit odd. Jesus sees these two guys that John the Baptist was talking to and asks them what they are looking for. And they respond by asking Jesus where he lives. And Jesus says, “I’ll show you, just follow me.”
I have always found it interesting in those stories where Jesus asks people to follow him, that he never gets all Christian with them. He doesn’t say this is what you have to believe, this is how you are supposed to live, there is no doctrinal statement to acknowledge, no this is what you are supposed to do. It’s simply “follow me.” Could it be it’s just like Mae and Rose in all that he is saying is follow me and maybe you will see or do or discover something pretty interesting? Christy Wood might just be on to something here.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. “I’ll show you my place. You can hang out with me and the others. We’ll have some supper. See what you think and if you want to keep hanging out, when I’m home, the house is always open, and when I’m on the road you are welcome to come along. But for now, just follow me to my place and see what you think.” Maybe the initial stage when Jesus said, “follow me’ was kind of like that free trial for something like Netflix where you can watch it for two weeks without giving them your credit card number.
If the invitation to follow Jesus didn’t begin with things like doctrinal statements, theological formulations, stances on scriptures, and church policies for the first people who followed Jesus, it probably doesn’t need to begin like that now, either. To follow Jesus is to be on the road of discovery about him, and the logical place to start is in the Gospel stories about Jesus. Sadly, that doesn’t happen quite the way you think it should. From what some preachers and others say, I wonder if they ever have read the gospels. For example, when you hear all these Christian preachers and politicians going on and on about America first, I wonder how they missed the thing Jesus said about the first being last and the last being first.
When those guys followed Jesus back to his house I bet they didn’t find a 1st century version of a McMansion. Jesus began his life as a refugee, the government wanted him killed. When he started preaching and gathering disciples he didn’t go to the palace or the Temple, he went to the lakeshore where the people were poor and to the tax collecting booths where the people were despised. You would find him in Samaria, where no one who wanted to have any future in the religious or political power structures of Israel would dare set foot. The longest theological discourse he is recorded as having was with a Samaritan woman. And he never gathered with other Rabbis to lay hands on and sanction Pilate’s rule.
It’s not enough, though, to only read the stories about Jesus. We need to make sure we understand the setting in which he lived. Israel was a country under occupation. There were various factions and movements that were either trying to make accommodations with Rome or overthrow it. There were different religious groups trying to maintain and gain whatever power Rome would let them have. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law were competing factions that claimed to be the true expression of Judaism.
It’s not only that they were under occupation, though, as Lizzie Edgar pointed out in ECO the other night. Jesus lived his life as a member of an oppressed nation. He was executed by the Empire. The early church grew up in a time when the Empire and Jewish opponents were trying to destroy Christianity. Remember how the Apostle Paul is introduced to us in the Book of Acts? He has the mandate to round up as many Christians as he could—men, women, and children—and take them in chains back to Jerusalem where they would be imprisoned and executed.
For the first three hundred years of the church Christians were among the powerless who lived and died at the whim of the Emperor. Things changed, though, during the reign of Constantine when Christianity became the state religion. The church has held the reins of power since then in most of the Western world. And how you understand Jesus is a whole lot different depending on whether you are among the powerless or the powerful. The viewpoint Jesus had and how folk viewed him in his own context is a big deal. It’s kind of like the discussions about race in this country, it looks a whole lot different to white folk than black folk, because we start in such different places. We forget that context sometimes.
Jesus would come along and say to these women and men, “follow me. Come check out my place.” And some would and they would keep following, going to the next place to see and do and discover. Some of them didn’t. There is that story in John 6 where Jesus is with a bunch of people who have followed him into the desert. They responded to Jesus simply saying come and see. There were thousands of them and they started getting hungry. Jesus performed one of his feeding miracles and they all got to eat. But then he started telling them that what he was about was so much more than a lunch ticket. He talked about the bread of life that sustains the soul. And they started walking away. They came, they saw, they left. Wherever he was going next didn’t matter. They had followed him long enough and they were done.
There were just a few of them left at the end. Jesus looked at them and said how about you? Peter said, “Well, here’s the thing. You said follow you, come and see. We followed. We saw. And now we can’t stop following you even if we wanted to. There is so much life in you. Because we have seen and done and discovered that life with you we are going to keep following and see what’s next. You are kind of stuck with us.”
They kept following, kept discovering that life along the way. There was a lot they didn’t understand, there were times when what he was saying and doing seemed like nonsense to them. And when they followed him on that last trip to Jerusalem there were only about 120 of them. When it all began they never expected that they would follow him all the way to a cross. And when they were gathered in that room a few weeks later and this power came upon them they realized they had come alive with him on that Easter morning. And it all started when Jesus was walking down the road or the lakeshore and somebody would say something like where do you live and he said follow me and I will show you.
It’s no wonder that the earliest Christians called themselves Followers of the Way. The following doesn’t end, The Way keeps stretching out before us. It’s about a journey we are on rather than a destination where we have arrived. And together we are the body of Christ, the living presence of the living Jesus. But we work this out along The Way as we follow and see and do and discover who Jesus is.
“Follow me, Grandpa!” When I hear that I usually follow because I never know what I am going to find. It could be pretty interesting.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. “You never know what you are going to find but it could be pretty interesting.”