I spent almost every evening of this year’s Holy Week at my home parish, St. Cletus Catholic Church in St. Charles, Mo. Few things bring me as much joy as worshiping with my faith community, especially on those special liturgies of holy days. This year, Holy Thursday proved a particularly powerful Mass.
Still resonating in my spirit is a song we sang during the ceremonial washing of the feet: The Summons, by John L. Bell. The first verse, which I had heard many times before, struck me in a particularly fresh way.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known? Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Those words moved me like never before, as God revealed something about which I’ve often wondered. You see, I haven’t responded to Jesus’ call for me to follow him – not entirely, not with truly reckless abandon and selflessness. I want to do that. I’ve always wanted to do that. And I’ve always thought I was ready. In fact, there have been many times when I thought I actually had responded with an emphatic “yes!” to that summons.
The fact is, I’m more like the “rich young man” than I am like those apostles who gave up everything when Jesus beckoned “Come, follow me.”
So what is the difference between those 12 apostles and the “rich young man” – and me? I realized the answer that Holy Thursday night when, accompanied by my wife and surrounded by my special church community, I heard again the story of Jesus washing the feet of those 12 men – some of his closest friends. They had followed him for most of three years. They had dirty feet.
My feet, I confess, were clean. Same for that rich young man, I am sure. Same for almost everyone I’ve ever met, as well as just about anyone who might read these words. Why?
It’s all about the heart.
You remember the rich young man, don’t you? Mark wrote about his encounter with Jesus.
“As (Jesus) was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “ … You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’ He replied and said to him, ‘Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
“Come, follow me.” Jesus spoke those words to Peter, to Matthew, to Philip, and probably to the rest of the 12 apostles. That wouldn’t be such a big ask if Jesus just wanted to go to the grocery store or the ballgame. The guys would have been home by dinner, bedtime at the latest. But Jesus was requesting something much more life-changing. Those men followed Jesus to Cana, Nazareth, Bethsaida, Samaria, Bethany and frequently to Jerusalem.
I don’t know if those men were promised eternal life, as the rich young man was seeking from Jesus. I know such a promise helps me consider following Him wherever He leads.
“Sometimes in our spiritual life, we come to a halt because we insist on understanding and searching into God’s plans for our soul. A faithful soul, on the other hand, does not linger to inquire about God’s actions; even though not fully understanding them, it believes, following blindly, if necessary, the manifestations of the divine will. This is pleasing to God who does not ask us to understand, but only to believe with all our strength.”
Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, in “Divine Intimacy”
The apostles seemed to follow simply because it was Jesus who called them. They dropped their nets, left the tax money on the counting table, said good-bye to family and friends, and they went wherever the Master led. Why didn’t the rich young man do the same? Was anything different about the callings?
I think there is a subtle hint in Mark’s Gospel account. “Jesus, looking at (the young man), loved him …”
My hunch is that the rich young man didn’t pay attention to the love of Jesus as He beckoned, whereas the apostles could see it in His eyes, hear it in His voice, detect that special love in His words. After all, Jesus is the Son of God and God is love. He exudes love with his very Being.
The apostles didn’t miss that. The young man didn’t see the look. He missed it.
Many days I miss it, too. I want to follow. I know in my mind and my heart that Jesus loves me and wants me to give up all those unnecessary parts of my life to follow Him every place He leads. Knowing it and feeling it can be two different things, though. I often forget what I know. But there’s no way any of us could ignore the feeling.
I need to pay attention better — because Jesus always is looking at me and loving me. How could I not follow?