17 January 2009

FOLLOW ME: A COMMAND, NOT AN INVITATION

Saturday in the First Week of Ordinary Time
Mk 2:13-17

When Jesus called Levi (who was Matthew the Tax Collector) and the other apostles, He simply told them, “Follow Me.” Many readers of the gospels interpret these words of Jesus as an invitation to the Twelve to be His closest disciples. There is nothing in the gospels to support that really. More than a mere invitation, Jesus’ “Follow Me” was a command. If it were an invitation, Jesus would have said “Follow Me please” or “Would you follow Me” or “Kindly follow Me”. But no, Jesus simply said, “Follow Me.” It is, therefore, more likely to be a command than an invitation.

Levi’s reaction to Jesus’ “Follow Me” in the gospel today clearly implies that, indeed, what he heard from Jesus was a command and not a mere invitation. As Mark narrates the story, upon hearing Jesus’ “Follow Me”, Levi got up and followed Jesus. One may even have the impression that Levi was help captive by the totally unexpected attention that Jesus gave him so much so that, as if hypnotized, he stood up and followed Jesus. Levi was caught unimaginable surprised to say the least.

Jesus’ charisma might have held Levi, but Levi was certainly not hypnotized. Jesus does command but He never forces anyone. He leaves us free to follow Him or not. Given though that His “Follow Me” is a command, not to follow Him is not simply declining an invitation but disobeying the Lord Himself. That explains why ignoring His command to follow Him or refusing to follow Him leaves us without inner peace. Following Him though makes everything in our life fall into place and, despite all the trials that entail our following Him, we are at peace. And if, following Him confronts us with our unworthiness, the first reading today (Heb 4:12-16) admonishes us: “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have One who has been tempted in every way that we are, though He is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from Him and find grace when we are in need of help.” Jesus does not call the qualified; He qualifies those whom He calls. Our lack of qualification is not a disqualification as far as Jesus’ choice is concerned.

Jesus’ “Follow Me” is a choice that Jesus makes on us. The choice though is still ours.

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