“Come, follow Me.” Have you heard those words? If you haven’t, you’ve not been paying attention. Maybe you’ve been too immersed in the noise of the world. Maybe you’ve plugged your ears. Maybe you’re afraid. Hurt. Injured. Loaded with baggage. Whatever the case may be, Jesus isn’t going to stop saying them. And he’s not just saying them to anybody. He’s saying them to you.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
19 August 2019
“Come, follow Me.” Those words. Do they nag at your heart? Do they arise out of the morning stillness, penetrating your mind and soul as sure as the sun has risen? Do you hear them at work, at the most unexpected times? Do they frequently appear out of nowhere as you go about your daily tasks? Do you hear them when you see someone in need? When you’ve fallen—again? Maybe you’ve heard them for years. “I’ll do it later,” you tell yourself. “I’ve just got to get this one thing done, out of the way, then there will be time.”
On the other hand, perhaps you long ago said, “yes” to those words. But they keep coming. You hear them over and over again as you try each day to follow, wishing you could do more, realizing how helpless, how small, how insignificant you really are. You pray that you can really follow. You want to give it everything, die to self, shed blood if necessary. Somehow what you’re doing now—it seems it’s not enough. The cross is light. Or is it? You feel trapped in a life that prevents you from total abandonment. You wonder if it’s even possible to do that.
Maybe you’re looking at the wrong cross. Maybe it’s a lot heavier than you think. Maybe when you hear those words, you’re thinking of the wrong things.
“Come, Follow Me.”
In Today’s gospel (Mt 19:16-22), a young man comes before Jesus and asks him, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question, “Why do you ask me about the good?” Jesus tells him there is “only One who is good”; i.e., only God is truly good. The young man doesn’t know who the Teacher really is, he doesn’t understand that God-in-the-flesh is standing before him. Nevertheless, Jesus gives the young man his answer, as if to say, “I am the only One who is good.” By giving this answer, Jesus effectively says, “I am God.”
Jesus then lists some of the commandments, which show the connection between keeping the commandments of God and attaining salvation. The young man seems rather satisfied at this answer since he tells Jesus he has observed the commandments. Following the law is something important in his life, perhaps something he is—and should be—proud of, as a sign of his love for what is true and good, as a way of showing his love for God. The young man is dedicated in that way. You might even say he’s walking in the ways of God since the commandments reflect something about who God is.
The young man doesn’t stop there, however. He knows there’s a problem residing deep in his interior. He knows his loyalty is divided. Yes, he’s kept the commandments. Yes, the law is important to him. But the purpose of the law is to direct his life toward union with God, toward a complete giving of himself to the Creator. The young man hasn’t yet done that. And he knows it. He knows it because he asks the question:
“What do I still lack?”
Then he hears those radical words. Life altering words.
If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
The young man, however, chooses not to do that and goes away sad, for “he had many possessions.”
It’s Not All About Possessions
What did this unnamed young man miss out on? What might he have done as a disciple? Did he later come to his senses, realize what is really important, and choose to follow Jesus? Maybe. We don’t know.
We do know that Jesus’ words ultimately weren’t about the material possessions he had, they were about the possessions he held dear in his heart. They were about healing a divided heart, a heart more in love with things than with God. It’s a danger many of us face. Our possessions are not our identity. The money we make says nothing about who we really are before God. What we purchase and own cannot bring us lasting happiness. Although they are often important in some sense, we must not become attached in a disordered way to material, created things. In that regard, only God’s grace can keep our desires in check.
What Does It Mean To Follow Jesus?
Jesus says, If you wish to be perfect, follow me without reserve. It’s not enough to walk part way with me. You can’t be a half-time disciple. I invite you to follow me with undivided heart, stepping in my steps, carrying your cross as I carried mine. I tell you, if you try to save your life in the world, you will lose it and die. But if you lose your life and die to the world for my sake, you will find eternal life in me.
Follow me, says Jesus. And share in my destiny.
Jesus demands total detachment from worldly things, renunciation of riches and security. He guarantees persecution. Division. That you will experience unjust hate is certain. That you may be asked to die a martyr is possible. Your own family will misunderstand you. Your friends may leave you. Your life will never be the same.
Following Jesus Is A Radical Endeavor
That’s the paradox of perfection. That’s the Christian paradox. You must die that you may live.
My grandma used to often say, “You’re not here to have fun. Life is difficult. You’re here to serve the Lord and get to heaven.”
Death doesn’t have the last word. Christ does. Should we die with him, we will be raised up with him to eternal glory.
And not only that. Although people may not notice, the joy and consolation Christ gives when we give ourselves totally over to him is indescribable. It really is a restored and recreated life. It’s a life of peace, running into the depths of your soul. It’s a life of light, happiness, strength and courage. It’s a life of grace poured out, making you anew, enabling you to do God’s bidding. But none of that means it’s easy.
The question is, do you give Christ permission to do whatever he wants with you? Can he have your life? All if it? Do you give him your freedom, mind, heart, will, and soul? Does he have your permission to take your life and use it as he so pleases?
If you’re serious about this, there’s going to have to be changes. Old habits have to be put out. Virtue has to be developed. The commandments? Yes, those too. All of them. Attending the holy Mass each Sunday and holy day of obligation? Without question. The sacrament of confession? Get it done this week. Believing everything the Church teaches on faith and morals? It can’t be any other way. Total orthodoxy? Anything otherwise is unthinkable. Will you have to openly display your Catholic and Christian beliefs? (which are one in the same). It’s got to be do or die. The Eucharist? Ah … THE EUCHARIST!
Will you give Jesus permission to take over your life?
If you’re going to follow the only One who is good, you’ve got to start there.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.