McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application form that asked, ‘Are you a leader?’ She looked squarely at herself and realized that being a leader was not her character. Being a straightforward girl she just jotted down a simple ‘No’ and returned the application. She was sure she will never be admitted.
So it was a big surprise when she received this letter from the College: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”
This simple story says everything. Life is made of choices. A good choice leads to serenity; a bad choice leads to problems. The critical choice that we have to do constantly in life is this – do I want to be a god of my life or let Someone else lead my life? Do I accept the simple obvious fact that I am a creature or do I want to determine the way my life flows?
I was at the barber when I saw this young man in his twenties carrying a small bag around his body with many tubes coming out of it. There was blood flowing in these tubes. The barber asked him why he is carrying this bag. I could not help not overhearing the story that this man was telling… how one day he noticed a tiny blemish on his back that then developed in a massive scar. It was skin cancer. He had to spend Christmas in bed after the two surgeries he had to do and now he was waiting for his third and final operation.
The words that Jesus Christ said to Simon and Andrew at the Sea of Galilee came to my mind ‘Follow Me’. God was marking this route for this young man. He could rebel and be grumpy. He could accept and follow the road that God was opening for Him.
I am not a scholar, but the abrupt introduction of this scene by Mark in chapter one, presented with the simplest of grammatical connections, keeps the interaction in this ‘calling’ scene to a bare minimum. Invitation may be too delicate a word to describe the call Jesus issued toward his future disciples. It was more like a command than a request.
The same words “Follow Me” came forcefully in my mind when I received a rather hurtful email interpreting my actions and accusing me of things I never even dreamt of doing, let alone actually doing them. I could have rebelled and fought back (and become bitter) but this inside voice told me that this is an opportunity of becoming a little bit like My Master. I can never be like Jesus Christ in virtue, but perhaps accepting this humiliation and this pain can make me in some way be like Him.
“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes of the goals”, said this framed picture, with the one full-size word ‘FOCUS’ branded in gold. And faith is to the willingness to see these obstacles as the intrusions of God to convert us to serenity.
Conversion means following Christ. Following Christ means obeying him. Obeying sometimes means doing things one does not understand or even agree with.
But obeying is more undemanding than ordering. A leader has so many things on his mind. He must overseer over everything, be ready to tackle any bumps that come on the way, solve the problems to keep the job flowing. The follower simply has to … go behind! ‘Just tell me what to do and I do it!’ There is no need for him to think too much. He can worry less and enjoy more.
That is why it is about time to stop for a minute and look at the basic assumptions of our life and perhaps make real changes. “Courage after all does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’.” This is another motivational sentence that has been framed beautifully by a business corporation.
Merle Miller wrote a biography of the US president Lyndon Johnson. In it, he quotes the President saying in 1969, after he had left office, “I never felt I had the luxury of re-examining my basic assumptions. Once the decision to commit military force was made, all our energies were turned to vindicating that choice and finding a way somehow to make it work.”
And, of course, it was that failure to reexamine the basic assumption that shaped the tragedy of the Johnson government – at the expense of thousands of lives.
Saint Augustine once wrote, “What do I want? What do I desire? What do I burn for? Why do I live? There is one only reason: so that together we might live with Christ.”
So it is very understandable why the very first and the very last words that Jesus said to Peter were “Follow Me”. Because in these simple two words lies the secret of life.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.