A few days ago I wrote about a lesson from a Wednesday night youth gathering, talking about following Jesus. Using the words of Mark, Chapter 8, we established that there was no way we could learn how to follow correctly using our own wisdom, power, or other faculties. Anything we try to make happen ourselves ends up with us leading and God following, which defeats the purpose. As we follow, we die to ourselves and rise again in Christ. That’s not our work, but God’s.
This isn’t a satisfying conclusion to the discussion, however. We can’t perceive this dying and rising very well. Nor can we just sit around on the couch waiting to figure it out. How do we know what God is calling us to do in a given day?
Fortunately, the words of Mark 9 help rescue us from this dilemma:
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
After Jesus’ speech about not being able to do it ourselves--about denying self, dying and rising anew in God—his disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest! How ironic.
We talked with the youth about how Jesus’ followers didn’t really solve their problems by putting new standards of faith on that old argument of greatness. We imagined what would happen if there was a table of cheesecake downstairs. By the world’s standards, we should be elbowing each other out of the way to be first in line. This isn’t fixed if we change the standard to letting everybody else go first to be polite or faithful. Now we’re having the same argument, just about a different position in line (last vs. first)!
In the midst of this argument, Jesus picks up a child. He also bids his followers to do a new thing: welcome the child. Welcome can be many things: embrace, honor, make place for. It can also mean listening to and learning from the example of somebody who is not you.
In that moment, the child was as far away as possible from the people the disciples saw themselves as. They were arguing about greatness and power. A child, by definition, has none. Yet Jesus told his followers to embrace, honor, make way for, listen, and learn from this young person. This wasn’t because the child was special or innocent or perfect. The child could not be those things any more than the disciples could! But the child was not them. That was the key.
We have no hope of figuring out how to follow God on our own. Instead we learn from people who aren’t us. We do not hold to an immutable standard of righteousness codified by rules and regulations, existing only to glorify us. Instead we ask, “Who is God sending into our lives that is different than we are? Who in our community has been disempowered or disadvantaged?” Those people get to lead. Those people teach us how to follow God today.
When we listen to each other instead of just ourselves, we learn how to follow Jesus. When the “not us” becomes a part of us, our definition of “us” changes. Our old ways of thinking die and new ways of being rise.
There is no single answer to, “What does the Bible say about being a follower of God?” All we know is that the answer lies beyond any of us, but finds greater clarity when we move out of the center and something besides us takes our place. It’s the opposite of everything the world teaches, yet it’s the only answer than makes any sense.
Who will you listen to this week in order to learn more about following God? Whose voices get to weigh into your life and journey of faith? I hope for you, and for the young folks among us, the answer to those questions becomes as broad and beautiful as God’s love for us. The possibilities for learning are endless. The ways in which we follow should be too.