There are many words for which I have only a partial understanding of the definition. What comes to your mind when you hear the word follow?
When I hear it, I imagine walking in a straight line. I think of an elementary school student silently directing a string of classmates through the hallway. I also think of transportation. I imagine one driver saying to the other driver, "I know the way; follow me," and then weaving through traffic leading the other vehicle to the intended destination.
This is only one layer of what it means to follow.
On a variety of occasions, Jesus proclaims the invitation, "Follow me." Whenever I've heard these words in the past, I've imagined all the disciples dropping their fishing nets and tax-collecting ledgers to get in line behind Jesus. I've imagined Jesus walking in front and everyone else walking behind him.
The original Greek form of the word follow is akoloutheo. As it turns out, the word conveys much more than getting in a straight line behind a leader.
The word akoloutheo means "to accompany" and "to join." When Jesus invites people to follow him, he isn't so much saying, "Do exactly what I do" or "Get in a straight line behind me." He's saying something more like, "Accompany me on this journey." He's saying, "Join me on this road as we travel together."
The season of Lent began on Wednesday. For the next 40 days (plus Sundays), we have the opportunity to prepare our hearts for Easter.
Each year during Lent, this column focuses on a particular theme for a Lenten series. This year we'll be journeying with Jesus, but we won't be doing it in a straight line behind him. Instead, we'll walk right beside him, accompanying him along the way. The word we'll use to describe this act of accompaniment is wander.
For the next 40 days, we'll wander with Jesus into the realities and challenges of life. Jesus didn't veer away from life's complexities. He trekked toward them. For the next several weeks, we'll trek, too. The themes will seem familiar because they are common in all our lives.
We'll wander with Jesus from isolation toward community, from distraction toward mindfulness, from arrogance toward humility, from judgment toward mercy, from attachment toward freedom, and from fear toward trust. The Gospel of Luke will be our map.
We won't be traveling directly to any particular destination each week; we'll be wandering toward. It would be convenient if following Jesus meant getting directly from point A to point B without any detours but rarely does it work that way. Journeying with Jesus often means sauntering and swerving and occasionally veering off course. It means falling down and getting up and dusting off and trying again.
Following Jesus doesn't get us to any intended destination more quickly or efficiently, but it does provide the promise that with him, we never travel alone (perhaps the ultimate gift).
Together, let's wander with Jesus throughout Lent. Grab your Bible or use a free version online. (I recommend the NRSV or NIV translation.) Open up to the Gospel of Luke (The third book of the New Testament, toward the back of the book). I'll meet you here next week as we wander from isolation toward community with Jesus as our teacher, guide, and friend.