My friends in Iowa and Kentucky, doing good work on weeklong service projects, are nearing the end of their trips. I wrote this for the Kentucky folks; I'm posting it here as an act of solidarity.
Not everybody follows Jesus. Maybe that goes without saying, but it’s worth an occasional reminder. We inhabit a world that thinks that by and large it’s getting along just fine, thank you very much. All these Christian busybodies who can’t tie their shoes without asking God’s permission, who prefer to feel bad about things that make people feel good—these people are killing the world’s buzz, slowing down the world’s progress.
Not everybody follows Jesus, it’s true, but nearly everybody admires Jesus. It’s hard to find any unkind words said about him—apart from the occasional offhand comments that he didn’t actually exist. The overwhelming evidence is of course that he did exist, and that only good things can be said of him. Don’t blame Jesus for his followers, the saying goes; despite the various faults of his students, Jesus is still widely considered a Good Teacher.
Beyond that, a survey of the Gospels shows that Jesus wasn’t just admired but sought after as good company. People who threw parties wanted him there; students of the Bible sought private conversations with him about what the Bible meant. People who heard he was coming lined up to catch a look, and pressed in on him to shake his hand or make eye contact. People, it’s fair to say, wanted to be known by Jesus.
That’s not what Jesus wanted, however. Oh, he liked shaking hands and making eye contact and knowing people, and he did so almost constantly for three years. But what he really wanted was for people to move beyond mere acquaintance to true connection. He wanted people to see where he was headed and imagine themselves heading that same way. He wanted people to follow him, because he wanted them to arrive where he was going.
But not everybody follows Jesus, and Jesus is not afraid to confront their unspoken reasons.
To the man who made overtures of following him but who loved his beautiful house, Jesus suggested that to follow him necessarily meant leaving home.
To the man who loved being noticed by Jesus but who feared his own father’s jealous judgment, Jesus suggested that to follow him meant making hard decisions with difficult consequences.
To the man who wanted to leave his family for Jesus and leave Jesus for his family at the same time, Jesus suggested that following him—or anyone or anything for that matter—costs you something.
Following Jesus—even for a week—costs you something. Convenience, comfort, money, sweat, maybe blood, maybe health. But following Jesus gives you something in return as well. Elsewhere Jesus tells his followers “No one who has left”—and then he lists all sorts of things his followers have left behind—“for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29).
Jesus isn’t a sadist: he asks you to follow him because he has good things in store for you. But following Jesus costs; you know that firsthand. That’s why not everybody follows Jesus—because the cost is there, and the benefit comes only by faith.