As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. – Matthew 9:9
Really? Jesus said “Follow me” and Matthew walked away from everything and followed? What was in Jesus’ voice and intonation and presence that “Follow me” was enough to inspire such decisive action?
Some years ago, my brother and I took a trapeze lesson in the lobby of Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, Massachusetts. There was a rig about three stories high, with a net underneath and guy wires holding it all firm. A fellow named Rich gave instructions: a small, muscular guy with an unruly mop of hair who apparently spent much of his life swinging through the air. He gave us three basic rules. The first was common sense: don’t walk under the net. People fall into it, the net dips low, and someone walking underneath would get two people hurt. The second rule was more common sense: watch where you’re going. There were those wires all around, anchored to thick steel plates that could easily break a toe if you stubbed it. The third rule, Rich said, was to follow his timing. Don’t do things when we felt like doing them; do what he said, when he said.
On the last swings of the lesson, it became clear why we had to follow Rich’s timing. It’s because he was swinging from another trapeze, preparing to catch us. We had to meet him at the apogee, in mid-air. Suddenly, at the very peak of that swing, a strong pair of arms and hands grabbed ours. We were caught. Secure. Because of Rich’s strength and timing: the guy with the unruly mop of hair who had done this thousands of times.
Somehow Matthew knew the third rule: follow when the Teacher says “follow,” because the Teacher knows the timing is right. There’s nothing in the gospel to indicate Matthew had instructions before Jesus showed up. But because of his gospel, we do.
Teacher, say the word so I can hear it. Show the way. I will follow. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.