Jonah 3:1-5, 10/ Psalm 62/ Mark 1:14-20
Whom Do We Follow?
Physical and Mental Followings
Today’s theme is following and obeying. So, let us talk about following. One could physically or mentally follow someone. Kidnappers lure children with candies or other things that children love. Children who cannot resist temptation follow them. They follow the wrong people. This is a physical following. There are also religious cults and sects that are misleading. We hear of gullible people following some cult, giving up all their possessions, and in some case, participating in something more gruesome. This is a mental following.
These are some examples of following the wrong people and being misled. However, not all followings are misleading or dangerous. On social media, for example, we follow different people and watch what they have to offer. We are their fans. I follow some of my favorite pianists, story tellers, and history teachers on YouTube because I enjoy their videos. As a Methodist, I am also a follower of John Wesley. And the fact that I am a follower of Jesus is a given, considering that I am an ordained minister in charge of a Christian community of faith.
Jonah Did Not Follow
Following someone entails liking and agreeing with what they stand for. In the context of a religious community, it also entails obeying the teachings that we follow. Jesus said, “Love your neighbours as yourself.” We should try our best to obey. When a leader that we follow says, “We are meeting on this day at this time in front of the city hall to protest for such and such causes,” for example, we try to participate. Our United Church of Canada doesn’t preach too much about this, but Christian obedience is a crucial part of belonging to the Christian faith. And so, we hear the story of Jonah, who didn’t obey at first, and suffered the consequence.
In the first two chapters that we didn’t read, God calls Jonah and sends him to a great city called Nineveh to deliver God’s message; “You are wicked, and God will destroy you if you do not repent and change your ways.” But Jonah fled to the opposite direction towards a place called Tarshish. Guess what happened as the result of his disobedience.
God hit the ship with a great storm, they figured they were being punished for one person’s sin, cast lots, and of course, the lot fell on Jonah. They threw him into the sea and the storm stopped. Jonah was swallowed by a whale and spent three days and three nights in its belly. He prayed earnestly and God gave him another chance. That is how, in chapter 3 that we read today, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached God’s message. To Jonah’s surprise, they all repented, from the king to the lowliest of his subjects. And God withdrew the plan for their destruction. In chapter 4, Jonah gets angry that God spared the people of Nineveh. He obviously considered the people of Nineveh unworthy of God’s love, and didn’t like it when they repented and received God’s forgiveness. But that is a story for another day. Today’s point is that Jonah disobeyed, and God had a way to bring him back. He failed to follow and obey God.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John Did Follow
Our gospel story tells of four people who didn’t fail to follow a worthy person and cause. Jesus called two sets of brothers in his home province of Galilee. He said, “Follow me,” and they immediately obeyed. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t tell the details, but we can use our common sense and guess that they didn’t just follow a total stranger without a good reason. We can guess that they had been searching for something meaningful, probably to fight the Roman oppressors and liberate their people, or probably a religious leader with vision.
We could wonder, “But what if they were being misled by a bad person?” Fortunately for them, Jesus was not a liar and sociopath like some other cult leaders. I think the brothers had already met Jesus and thought he might be the one. They sacrificed their livelihood, their fathers, and their family business to follow Jesus. (How are the fathers going to manage the fishing business without their sons? That is a sacrifice.
Who Do We REALLY Follow?
Today, let us think about whom and what movements we follow. With a lot of misleading leaders out there, we need solid guidance. We believe in God and follow Jesus whose teachings we trust. Jesus is trustworthy, but there are religious leaders out there who distort the gospel message and mislead their followers, hence needing guidance. We should pray for God to guide us and give us discernment in the important choices we make. We trust God’s love for us, so we follow the Holy Spirit. Because we believe that Jesus was sent by God, we trust and follow his teachings.
The many saints who came before us, who led a life of love and self-sacrifice like Jesus did, they testify to the love of God’s kingdom and are the reason we can believe in God through Jesus. Because we learned about God’s love from Jesus and the Christians who came before us, we can praise God with the psalmist, claiming, “God alone is my rock and salvation. My hope is from God alone.”
Let us trust God. Let us trust God’s love for us. Let us trust the teachings of Jesus and follow him as a lifestyle. Let us love God like Jesus did. Let us love, help, and forgive all God’s people like Jesus did. Let us have righteous anger like Jesus and not remain silent at the injustice of our society. We claim that we follow Jesus because we are Christians, but let us reflect on whether we truly follow him in our lives.
Do we look like Jesus or more like the judgmental religious leaders that he criticized? Who are we really following? Although none of us can be perfect, let your life reflect the values of God’s reign that Jesus taught and lived by. If we are to follow Jesus, let us REALLY follow him, in what we believe in, what we say and do, and how we treat God’s beloved people, no matter how much we are tempted to ignore judge, or hate them. May God guide us all.