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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Did Jesus Really Mean for Us to Drop Everything and Follow Him?

Mark 1:14-20
Did Jesus Really Mean For Us To Drop Everything and Follow Him?
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church PCUSA
Sunday, January 22, 2006

Did Jesus really mean for us to drop everything and follow him?

Last Sunday, we read the Gospel According to John’s version of this story. It’s a little different. Jesus doesn’t walk along and gather disciples by saying, “Follow me.” Instead, Jesus walks along, and the disciples come to him. “Where do you live?” “What are you all about?” And he says, and teaches disciples to say, “Come and see.” It’s a much more inviting approach to evangelism. If I were teaching people to go out and bring members to church, I’d go with the “Come and See” approach. I think people in American society, where everything – and I do mean everything is based on choice – I think people respond better to invitations than demands. Don’t you? “We’ve got a great youth program. Come and see.” Or, “Get thee to a nunnery!” (Shakespeare, not the Bible.) I know which one would appeal more to me.

But in the Gospel According to Mark – the short gospel, where Jesus is short (not physically, but in his attitude), and where everybody’s always in a hurry – in the Gospel According to Mark, the story’s different. Jesus doesn’t have time to say, “Come and see.” By the time those disciples came and saw, he’d be done and gone. In Mark’s version of the calling, Jesus is on a mission from God. He doesn’t have time for people to weigh their options, and choose the parts of faith that appeal to them. No, he marches right up to those disciples in the middle of their workday, walks straight into their office, the middle of a meeting, and says, “Follow me.” And here’s the kicker: they do. Just like that. There’s no, “Can I help my dad finish mending this net?” There’s no, “I’m sorry, I’m in a conference right now, could you talk to my secretary and we’ll schedule something?” There’s not even any, “Please, Lord, you have to understand, this is my only source of income and my wife and kids depend on me.” Not for gospel-writer Mark. “Immediately” he calls them. “Immediately” they drop their nets. “Immediately” they leave their father with the hired hands. Immediately they go.

How many times have you wanted to do something like that? How many times have you been sitting at your desk, writing up some dumb report that you know nobody’s going to read? Or cooking a supper that you know the kids are going to see and say, “Ew.”? Or locked in a meeting that you know is generating enough hot air to heat your home for the winter? How many times have you sat there, captive – captive to your bosses, captive to circumstance, captive to the detours of your life – and thought, Oh, how great it would be to just chuck it all? Drain the bank accounts, pack all the credit cards, buy a Harley, and just GO. Away. Go west. Go to a desert island. Go to a 6 by 6 cabin in Montana where you can live with the woodland creatures, and write your manifesto? (I’m a Presbyterian minister, so I never feel like that. But I understand among normal people, it’s fairly common.)

Fred Craddock, a truly great teacher of preachers, tells the story of a horrible church softball game. Saturday afternoon. About 120 degrees. The other team was beating them about thirty to nothing. It was the second inning. Fred was playing centerfield, and in a moment when the other team had taken a break from hitting home runs, the very devout left fielder walks over to him and says, “Isn’t it gonna be great when Jesus comes?” And Fred says, “I couldn’t think of a better time.”

In your own moments of empty desperation, wouldn’t it be great if Jesus came? One of those days when you’ve had it up to here with everyone, wouldn’t it be great if Jesus came and said, “Follow me.” And if your boss or your kids or your teacher got mad, so what? It’s Jesus. “Sorry, everybody. Jesus says I have to go. Hasta la vista, baby.”

Maybe that’s the way the disciples felt about their jobs. Sick and tired of those stinky old fish. Sick and tired of working for the man. After all, in those days, in their society, your father pretty much was god. Dad said fish, you fished. Dad said jump, you asked how high. Maybe these disciples were like rebellious teenagers who had never had a chance to “find themselves.” So when Jesus comes along, they can’t jump out of the boats fast enough.

Maybe. Or maybe turning their backs on their families, turning their backs on their culture and traditions, turning their backs on the only way they knew to make a living– maybe this was the single hardest thing they’d ever done. Maybe they followed Jesus NOT because they wanted so badly to say yes, but because they didn’t know how to say no.

Some people have speculated that Jesus was an irresistible force, with the magic power to command obedience. But the disciple Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and the disciple Peter, who denied him, are proof that whatever control Jesus had, the disciples always had the power of choice. As we go on in the Bible, we learn that the disciples were at best clumsy followers. Their hearts were in the right place, but their egos and fears were in the wrong places.

So I’m guessing that even though the disciples did immediately drop their nets to follow Jesus, still had a lot of mixed emotions. And I’m also guessing that no matter how badly they might have wanted to walk away from their previous lives, part of them always wondered, “Did Jesus really mean for us to drop everything and follow him?”


Author Annie Dillard says that if we really took seriously Jesus’ command to follow him, then when people entered worship, instead of handing out bulletins, we’d hand out crash helmets. Jesus never told his disciples, “Come to church because you’ll go home feeling so good.” First, he never told the disciples they’d go home. Second, Jesus never says anything about feeling “good.” Instead, Jesus says things like, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor.” (Luke 18:22) He says things like, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) He says things like, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) If we try to follow Jesus because it’s going to make us feel “good,” we have to ask, are we following Jesus, or are we trying to get Jesus to follow us? Crash helmets, because he snaps our heads around. Knee protectors, because he demands that we fall on them. Tetanus shots, because there are splinters and nails involved. That’s what following Jesus demands. Yes, there is glory “on the other side.” But you can’t get to the glory of resurrection without going through the cross. We ought to put big, yellow WARNING stickers on our Bibles. And if we, the church, sugar-coat that warning, we’re guilty of false advertising.

So do we tell people, “Come to church, because the pews are really uncomfortable, and the air conditioning doesn’t work, and we smell bad”? “You think you’re miserable now? Come to church, and we’ll really finish you off.” Is that what Jesus meant? Of course not. This is, after all, the Jesus who lived by the commandments – Honor your mother and father – Love – love God, and love your neighbor. So is Jesus saying to put our crash helmets on? Or to take our crash protection off? Is Jesus saying to run away from all our problems, or to run right into the middle of them? Does Jesus honestly think it’s possible for us to drop everything? Possible or not, is that what he wants us to do? Should we feel guilty if we don’t?

It’s almost as if the extreme response of the disciples distracts us from the core message of this text. Listen closely. Jesus never tells his disciples to quit their jobs. He never tells his disciples they have to run off into the woods and become hermits. He never says they have to be missionaries to the deepest, dark corners of the earth in order to be legitimate, real Christians. He never says to psychoanalyze yourself and what you love and what you hate, and understand what you should love and what you should hate. Those might well be wonderful things to do, and they may well be what Jesus is calling you to do. If you answer his call, whatever it is, God bless you. But that’s not what Jesus is saying in this text.

Jesus says, “Follow me.” His core calling to his disciples is, “Follow me.” No more, no less. No mixed emotions, no mixed message. “Follow me.” And putting their own concerns aside, they did. The disciples followed Jesus in the way they were called to follow. Does that mean you and I have to do what they did in order to be legitimate, real Christians?

In your heart, through the whispers of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls you, every bit as much as he called the fishermen. And, as with them, Jesus leaves you to choose whether you’ll answer that call. The core of Jesus’ message to us is as clear as it was to the fishermen. “Follow me.”

If it means stepping out of the family business and setting out on your own, follow him. If it means living at home and caring for your parents into their old age, follow him. If it means becoming a missionary to the Amazon, follow him. If it means having a house and a mortgage and providing for your family… if it means driving the soccer carpool with seven screaming, mud-covered kids… if it means going to Sunday School, or cooking a casserole, or fixing a broken toy… however Jesus is calling to you, follow him. Does Jesus expect us to do like the fishermen and drop everything? The disciples couldn’t have followed him the way they needed to if they didn’t. Do you? You might. Or you might be able to follow Jesus right where you are, because right where you are needs Jesus. Whether you have to drop everything and move far away, or if you have to pick yourself up and move closer to your own heart – whatever you have to do – follow him. What makes you a worthy disciple isn’t the extreme measures you take. What makes you worthy of Jesus is whether you answer his call, “Follow me.”

So you make mistakes, so you’re a clumsy disciple. So what? Jesus still died for you. So you can’t drop everything, so you can’t walk away from your responsibilities. You probably shouldn’t. No matter who you are, no matter what your circumstance, if you follow Jesus – no more, no less – if you follow Jesus, you’re a disciple.Fisherman, fireman, soccer mom, student – no matter what else you are, if you follow Jesus, you’re a disciple.


Father Mychal Judge was a Catholic priest in New York City. He said Mass in strange places, with lots of strange people. He was a recovering alcoholic. He was gay. And he was beloved. He knew everyone – from homeless AIDS patients to the Mayor. Father Mike was also one of five chaplains to the Fire Department. On September 11, 2001, Father Mike ran to Building One of the World Trade Center, to help in the rescue effort. Some say he had taken off his helmet to give Last Rites to a fireman, when he was struck by debris. Others say that in the lobby, he died beneath a shower of rubble when the collapse of Tower Two blew the ceilings apart. Either way, Father Mike gave his life being the only thing he knew how to be – a disciple.

Father Mike had a prayer he used to share. It was simple enough to be prayed by fishermen. Or by firemen. Or by anyone trying to figure out what God really wants them to do, and how to respond to Jesus’ command, to “Follow me.”

Lord, take me where You want me to go;Let me meet who You want me to meet;Tell me what You want me to say; andKeep me out of your way.