I discovered Christian rock during my first year of college. It was a transformative time for me in a lot of ways and those songs still bring back memories. There was something magical for me about that season of my life—and about the black-and-white perspective on faith and life that those songs engendered.
One of the songs that has stuck in my head over the years is “Don’t Look Back” by Fireworks. The title message comes from Luke 9:62, when someone wants to follow Jesus, but requests the chance to say goodbye to family first. Jesus responds, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the reign of God.” From my just-beyond-adolescence perspective, it felt perfectly natural to say that following Jesus was an all-or-nothing proposition.
Over the decades since, I’ve discovered that life is not so simplistically dualistic. There is much more than black and white. There’s a lot of gray. As I think about Jesus calling his disciples (the first in my proposed online retreat series on The Ministry of Jesus through the Eyes of Others), I realize that he didn’t give everyone the same message. To the fishermen mending their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he said, “Follow me.” To the tax collector sitting in his booth, he said, “Follow me.” To Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of this great teacher, he said, “Come down, for I’m going to dine at your house tonight.”
But he didn’t invite everyone to come along. In Mark 5:1–20, Jesus heals a man of demon possession. Once the excitement is over and Jesus prepares to leave the area (because his actions have frightened the locals and they entreat him to depart), the man begs Jesus to let him come along—and Jesus says no. Instead, he tells the man to return home, to his own people, and tell the story of what God has done for him.
I sometimes wonder what that man must have felt. Did he look at the other disciples and wonder what made them so lucky? Did he wonder what it was like to camp out with Jesus as he moved through the countryside, teaching and healing? Did he fear new demons would appear once Jesus left? I don’t know, but I intend to explore those ideas, and more, in one of my meditations on the Ministry of Jesus through the Eyes of Others. Jesus called some people to follow him—and called others to go home instead and share the story of their own encounter with Jesus. In intend to explore some situations where he made those choices—and I bet none of them will be black-and-white.
For example, Matthew, that tax collector, had to abandon a lucrative job to follow Jesus—but also got to leave behind the pain of being ostracized by many for collaborating with the Romans. Simple fishermen left a more precarious occupation—but they knew the Sea of Galilee is plenty big and they could count on returning to fish at any time (as Peter did in John 21:3). Matthew would find it a lot harder to look back than Peter, James, and John.
Dualistic thinking is easy, but integrating life-altering experiences into our ongoing, everyday lives is often harder. I had grand ideas during my college years about how I would follow Jesus and my life now looks nothing like I had planned—but I don’t look back. For me, following Jesus has been less about leaving everything behind (I now believe that would have been, in some ways, much easier) and more about sharing my own faith experience in my various hometowns—and now in cyberspace as well.
How has Jesus called you? What is your story of encountering Jesus and how have you shared it with others?
I have often thought about how disappointed the Gerasene demoniac must have been to be left behind and told, instead, to go share his story in his hometown. However, I learned last year that the nearest city to the area where the man was delivered has been discovered to have archaeological remains of more churches than any other city in Israel. Isn’t that wonderful? He must have obeyed Jesus and done a good job!
Thank you, Marcia. That is great! I did not know that and can incorporate it into my retreat reflection on him. May we all be so faithful to the ways we are called….