“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” – Matthew 4:19
Whenever I read the gospel accounts of how Jesus organized The Discipleship Movement I am reminded of how important it is to understand the roles of both leader and ally.
“Follow Me” Jesus proclaims over and over again as he invites others to help change the world. Some of his actions may seem illogical. A carpenter from Nazareth telling fishermen to “follow him” and he will make them fishers of men.
Who is he to tell others how to fish?
Later, Jesus issues an invitation to a tax collector to “follow him” in the Movement with no promise to make him treasurer. Time and time again, Jesus invites others to join him. The invitation is broad, and the directions are minimal but consistent. All who are willing to join are welcome, but you must “follow me.”
Isn’t it just like Jesus to teach us so much with so little? The organizing skills of Jesus remind us that true movements of liberation are best led by those who are being oppressed. This is why it matters that Jesus did not come as a person of great privilege, but rather as an Afro-Semitic Palestinian born on the wrong side of the tracks. It is from this context that Jesus begins a Movement, and it is from this context that Jesus invites others to follow.
And allies begin to show up, with their bodies and their gifts and their skills, to follow.
Even when the plan does not seem to make much sense, even when some think a more aggressive agenda is needed, over and over again, they agree to be Jesus’ allies in the struggle and they follow. There are moments when the disciples struggle with the leadership style of Jesus, yet they still follow. Most of them were oppressed themselves. They knew what it felt like to be hurt and marginalized in varying ways. But they followed.
I offer Jesus’ example to us as we continue to strive together in the Movement work of our time.
The invitation to the ally is always to follow the leadership of those who are at the center of the pain.
The story matters. And choosing to work toward liberation of any kind requires a commitment to support the narrative of the ones who own the story. The role of the ally is not to lead or to fix. The ally holds the story and amplifies the voice of the storyteller.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. Perhaps this simple invitation is the hardest of them all.
Gracious One, in my quest to serve faithfully, help me to discern the call to follow as well as I discern the call to lead for both are righteous.
Traci Blackmon is Executive Minister of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries.