Follow me. These words echo through my heart whenever I read this Gospel. But before Jesus’ command to follow him, we see a divine display of mercy, a threefold opportunity for Peter to heal and restore his threefold denial of Jesus. An exhortation for Peter to become the next Shepherd of the church on earth. A foretelling of the manner in which he would lay down his life in the ultimate sacrifice for the Kingdom. And finally, the call to action.
Follow me. Isn’t this the crux of discipleship? In order to be his disciple, we have to follow him. We don’t decide where to go and what to do. We have to step out of comfort, we have to step out of the safety of our comfortable lives and situations. And sometimes that means sacrifice. But it also means joy and fulfillment and becoming fully alive.
The path Jesus sets for each of us looks very different. For me, fifteen years ago it meant attending a catholic college (Benedictine College) further away from home than I wanted (it was only 6 hours) and pursuing a different path than I had previously thought I would (studying theology). I was so afraid to take the leap of faith, but I heard that call loud and clear. It took one miserable year at a secular college studying music education to realize that I needed to follow his plan for my life, not mine. Ten years ago it meant diving into active ministry at the parish level as a high school youth minister, even though I hadn’t even realized this is what my heart so deeply desired until after I took that leap of faith. Four years ago it meant a call to leave the job I loved in youth ministry and a move across the state to get married and start a family. Time after time I resisted that call, yet again and again I found Jesus there, waiting patiently, not providing a life without suffering or struggle, but providing a deep joy and fulfilment that could only come by answering his call.
Though the specifics of each call are different, the call itself is universal. Jesus whispers to each of us, “Follow me, you are not your own, you are mine and I love you.”
Is this not the great joy and struggle of following him as a disciple? He calls us to step outside of ourselves, to let go of control, and follow. He doesn’t demand perfection, look at Peter! Peter stepped out of the boat to walk on water and he sank after a few steps, crying to Jesus to rescue him. In Matthew 16 we hear the words of Peter, professing his faith in Jesus: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” And Jesus goes on to leave Peter with the keys to the kingdom of heaven. In the very next passage, after Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection, Peter is strongly disagreeing, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!.” (Matthew 16:15-22). He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” When Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times, Peter emphatically insists, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35). Most of us know how that story ended - the cock crowed, and Peter, realizing what he had done, went out and wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).
Following Jesus isn’t about perfection. It’s about faithfulness to the call. It’s about seeking a deep relationship with Jesus and getting up again and again after we fall, accepting the endless mercy of God, allowing him to heal and restore what we have broken. We must lean into Jesus and be attentive to those moments big and small when he whispers to our hearts, “Follow me.”
Where are you feeling the nudge to follow Jesus in a new or different way?