if you say you follow Jesus you must ask yourself how far are you willing to go?
The end of Mark’s story seems to suggests that Jesus went to Jerusalem alone. While there was a parade of people following him, they only did for so far. They stopped at the city gates. Jesus goes by himself to the temple, not to occupy it, or to cleanse it, but just to look at it, to observe it. And then alone he leaves the temple and Jerusalem to retire with the Twelve who seem to be in Bethany.
How did Jesus end up alone? Where did all those people go who came out to cheer him on? One minute they’re waving leafy branches shouting Hosanna, then the next minute they’re gone.
And what about the Twelve? They left their families and businesses behind to follow Jesus. For the last couple of years, they’ve been by his side; clinging to every word and witnessing every miracle. Now, as Jesus’ days are coming to an end, they are missing in action. Or course they weren’t the only ones who followed Jesus. The sick and the demon possessed looked for him in order to be healed.
And then there’s the Pharisees and Sadducees. They followed Jesus hoping to entrap him. He was becoming a bit of a thorn in their side – questioning their motives and understanding of God’s will. They followed him to get ammunition to bring him down. And eventually they will succeed.
Of course, the Roman’s were always close by, guarding their empire. It was rumored that Jesus was a revolutionary leader, the one sent by God to overthrow Caesar and restore Israel back to its former glory. Though he had no armed militia, he was still seen as a threat to their way of life.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time, all eyes were on him. People stopped whatever it was they were doing to follow him. And to cheer him on. They shouted “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
But for no reason given, they were gone as quickly as they showed up. And I can’t help but wonder why.
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Is it because the stakes are higher now? Jesus is no longer in the villages and open country of his home province. This is the capital and the seat of religious and civil authority, where chief priests and elders have real power.
Maybe the people are afraid of what might happen to them if they are seen with him. To what extent the crowds supported his ideals is not fully clear. But they did...up to a point.
This makes me wonder why you’re following Jesus and how far are you willing to go to do so?
Do you follow to have your sins forgiven? If so, you might remember from last week God made a covenant that said, “I will be your God and you will be my people. I will remember you sins no more.”
Maybe you follow Jesus so you can get into heaven when you die? But Jesus made it abundantly clear that the Kingdom of Heaven has already come to us. This is why he said, “Repent.” Let go of your old ways. Be present and participate in the kingdom now. We do that by following the way of God like Jesus did.
When I asked Kathleen this question, she said, “I follow Jesus because he’s the source of the things that I believe are true and good in the world. Sources I can draw from to be who God has made me to be.”
Jesus is not just inviting us to participate in God’s kingdom, but to grow and thrive in it as well. Jesus is our savior in that saves us from ourselves. His is a new way that will require losing your life in order to save it.
To be a follower of Jesus means you choose to be his student; applying his teachings to your life. It means imitating his way of love and self-giving for the sake of the other.
And this can be dangerous. People love to take advantage of our goodness. But that’s on them. We have our call. As Jesus put it, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
It will only be a matter of days that the 12 will understand the full extent of what this means.
They’ve spent much time with Jesus listening and observing. But it was always on the other side of the cross. Only after the resurrection will they fully understand what it means to follow Jesus. And follow they did – faithfully continuing his work of spreading the good news of God’s redemptive love and grace everywhere they went.
Imagine what that entails, especially today. There will be rejection and humiliation. The emotional toll of tireless giving over to the needs of others without a guarantee of receiving anything back. This was never supposed to be easy. Saints like Mother Teressa struggled to live up to the call. I barely touch the surface...but I try.
The Romans were right. The way of Jesus is revolutionary. It’s a threat to a way of life that builds empires on the backs of the weak and poor. It’s an assault on the systems that takes whatever it wants, often by force. It confronts those who twist the laws and bends the truth in their favor so they can keep their power.
To follow Jesus means the will of God will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It means allegiance to God supersedes one’s allegiance to Caesar or country. It means standing up to injustice, opposing violence, and practicing equality. This is tough to do now, just as it was back then. Fred Craddock reminds us that "The disciples faced opposition as strong as any Jesus himself had to endure." Still, they risked it all to follow him. But will we?
Eventually the people singing their sweet hosanna’s would slowly retreat; returning to their daily lives. One by one, they will drop away. Who could blame them?
When Jesus rode through their neighborhoods without an army behind him, they gave up hope. They feared they didn’t have what it takes to stand up to a powerful empire. Like seeds planted on rocky or shallow soil, their faith never really took root.
By midweek, the numbers of followers will dwindle back down to 12. Then to 11.
By the time the cock crowed three times the next morning, only Peter will be left – watching from afar as Jesus’ fate is sealed.
By sunset of that day, Jesus will be alone, once again, only this time on a slab in a tomb.
We are blessed to know what comes next in the story. This tomb is only temporary. It’s nothing more than a gateway to show the world what God can do, and what God is willing to do, to be in relationship with us. We are blessed that God loves us so much that God is willing to take on death and defeat it for us.
But this blessing is also a burden. A burden of knowing what following Jesus entails. Just as he gave instructions to his disciples to continue this mission of love and redemption so too are we called to walk as he walked and to talk as he talked.
It means to show patience when people annoy us, to be kind when they reject us.
It means to help those who reach out to you, without judgment or shame.
It means to demand justice when the law is being twisted and abused.
It means to welcome people who are not of your tribe, or political party or religious affiliation to celebrate the fullness and diversity of life with them.
It means to love like it’s the only thing that makes your heart beat and come alive. So why would you risk your life to follow Jesus? I can’t really give you an answer, only my opinion based on what I’ve learned by struggling over the years.
In this final pilgrimage, Jesus began his walk to the cross. In doing so, Jesus will face for me our greatest fear – death. Through Jesus, God has freed me from death so that I can live – truly live - without fear.
To live without fear is to live with God’s shalom – God’s perfect peace. Possessing this peace, I can proclaim the good news by simply living into it for others to see.
I haven’t perfect this yet. But instead of getting down and giving up, I simply show up every morning and try. With God’s peace on my heart, I have hope. I have a purpose. I have a reason to get up in the morning do what Jesus did everyday. Because day after day Jesus continues to live through me.
To follow Jesus is no small choice. But one we are called to make. It’s hard because you’re not just choosing him, you are also choosing to stake your life on living in imitation of him.
To follow Jesus is to choose the steadfast, unyielding, courageous commitment to living eternal Will of God — no matter the cost. That means, to make God’s love the center and the standard of everything you do.
This is dangerous. This is revolutionary. This is life giving.
But this is the way of God, who through Jesus Christ calls out to you, “Come, follow me.”
The choice is up to you. To follow or to walk away.
If you say you follow Jesus, then you must ask yourself how far am I willing to go?
*Inspired by Fred Craddock's observation to Mark 11.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”