Saturday 22 February 2020

Follow Thou Me

These are the last words Jesus speaks at the end of St John's Gospel (setting apart the controversy about whether this chapter was added later). They are spoken in response to Peter who was asking about the destiny intended for John. "If I will that he should tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me." It seems that Jesus was basically telling Peter to mind his own business. All he had to worry about was his own task.

But taking these words in a wider context I think they can allow an interpretation that applies to all of us. Our spiritual duty can be boiled down to one simple thing. Follow Christ. We can forget about advanced spiritual techniques and esoteric philosophies. They may be interesting, some may even be useful but really, we needn't complicate things by trying to search out deep metaphysical truths and hidden mysteries. We just have to follow Christ. If he really is, as he claimed to be, the Way, the Truth and the Life then our spiritual task is simple. It is to follow him. Conversely, if he really is the Way, the Truth and the Life and we don't follow him we are not living a proper spiritual life. Imagine spirituality can be conceived of as a circle. There are many points around the circumference and even within the circle itself. But there is only one centre. That is Christ.

However, two questions arise. What is following in this context and who is Christ? The answers to these questions might seem obvious. Following is believing in Christ and obeying his commandments, and Christ is the person described in the Gospels. But the person in the Gospels is actually just a literary figure. He's a character in a book. That might seem a shocking thing to say but if you think about it, it's true. Obviously, I am not decrying the books or what they have created in the hearts and minds of mankind but I am pointing to the truth that following Christ really means going beyond the outer teachings and discovering his living image in your heart. Not following the religion or the idea you might have about it or him. It means following the light of Christ which is within you. This will be illuminated by the Gospels and the inspiration they contain but the Christ you must follow is not so much in the Gospels as in your own heart. It is there you must discover him and it is that light you must follow.

And what does follow mean? Observe certain rules? Perhaps but not only that. Live a certain way? Yes, but there is more. Following Christ actually means becoming Christ. He is not there and you are here. You must become him by giving up your self and allowing him to take over. This is not some kind of spiritual vampirism. The self you give up is not that of your personal integrity and individual identity. It is the separate self, the greedy, selfish, grasping, egotistic, know it all self. This must be handed over to Christ.

Following Christ is taking the image of the living Saviour and stamping that seal on your heart. For this to take effect the heart must become soft which means open to spiritual impression. You cannot receive Christ unless and until you start to become like Christ. The inflexible spiritual law is like attracts like. But once you do open up your heart up to the Word of God then that will enter in and make its home there.


Moonsphere said...

William, I think that those words were meant for precisely the times that we now live in.

It is clear that Peter's Church has lost its way - the length and breadth of Christendom was achieved long ago, at the cost of depth. Now the Church is in danger of losing even that which it once had. John's mission that you allude to is surely central to the future of Christianity. I know that few here share the view that Christ has indeed "come again" but that aside - even if by some miracle the churches filled up and a mediaeval piety filled the population - that would still be in a sense atavistic.

It has never been more important for an element of esotericism to enter the minds of Christians. Look at the phenomenon of Father Richard Rohr. He has attracted the attention of millions with his "feel good" lectures. He even speaks about the Universal Christ! This popular speaker is actually separating Jesus of Nazareth from Christ - and in doing so is addressing a central esoteric mystery within Christianity. The absence of the "Church of John" has left the field open for such a person to take this truth and wrap it up in all kinds of exterior platitudes.

So, yes we must follow Christ - but a lack of interest in esoteric Christianity is not necessarily a good thing in that regard.

William Wildblood said...

You're right Moonsphere (about the esoteric aspect of Christianity). I phrased myself badly. I wasn't meaning esoteric teachings are not important. I think they are - very. But they shouldn't become a substitute for the simpler truth of following Christ. That's what I meant though I could have put it more clearly!

Moonsphere said...

I agree William - there is always the danger of the esoteric taking primacy over the basic responsibility to live a spiritual life in Christ.

David Earle said...

You made a very important distinction here and I thank you for that. I will keep this in mind going forward because sometimes it's easy to forget just who we are following.

JMSmith said...

In Matthew 10, Jesus says "take up your cross and follow me," which I take to mean that to follow Christ is to follow him to Golgatha, and, as is made clear immediately afterwards in M. 10, to give up one's life in order to find it. I am glad to say that this does not mean martyrdom for all of us, but it does mean "self-sacrifice" in the fullest sense of that phrase. It means giving up our "self" as a burnt offering. I agree that the verse in John is telling Peter to mind his own business, and think this speaks to all of us. Jesus demands individual spiritual transformation. This focus on the individual means that he doesn't care about groups, and explains why he tells Peter to worry about himself. But the focus on spiritual transformation means that Christian individualism is absolutely opposed to self-centered modern individualism.

William Wildblood said...

thanks for your comment, islanti.

JM, I agree. It's not change that Jesus requires of us but transformation. The difference is the self can change to be a better self but transformation requires sacrifice of the self so that the spiritual phoenix can rise from the ashes of this burnt offering.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away with my mixed metaphors!

I also like your point that Jesus is after individuals not groups. That is something often forgotten today with our obsession with communities. Communities are fine but they are not the thing that matters.