I’ve always thought of the disciples (aka The Disciples, The Twelve, etc.) as "the ultimate Jesus followers." You know, "Super Followers" of the Nazarene or something.
The concept was so literal for them, and I’ve been in discussions where folks have commented about how nice that must have been, to actually walk the dusty road behind Jesus.
But in today’s readings, these guys don’t look very super; in fact they don't look much like followers at all.
Matthew 26:56 and Mark 14:50 put it rather bluntly:
Then all the disciples left Him and fled…And they all left Him and fled.
This just doesn't fit my image of "following," but I can’t say that I blame them. The scene in the garden had turned ugly in a hurry. I think most of us would have been scattering too. This little incident, so carefully recorded, throws a different light or perhaps a deep shadow across the concept of “following.” It confirms something I already know to be true on a very personal level:
even followers get lost. And then what?
All four of the gospels weigh in on his situation:
Matthew 26:58 And Peter was following Him at a distance.
Mark 14:54 And Peter had followed Him at a distance.
Luke 22:54 And Peter was following at a distance.
John 18: 15, 16 Simon Peter followed Jesus…but (he) stood outside at the door.
Most of you know it goes downhill from here for Peter, and uphill for Jesus, but what do you think is going on in these moments of “following at a distance?”
I can guess at the turmoil in Peter’s soul because it feels vaguely familiar.
How often I follow Jesus…at a distance.
I don’t want to lose sight of Him, and God knows I don’t want Him to lose sight of me, but…
the risk of following close and then closer is a higher cost than I think I can afford.
So I follow, but at a distance. And there’s bound to be a mess. Words betray, deny, reveal all that isn’t in my heart, and then a rooster crows.
“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered…” (Luke 22:61) Of course he did. Like me, he has an “after the fact” epiphany, a sudden leap of understanding, “and he went out and wept bitterly.”
What did he see in the eyes of Jesus at that moment that broke his heart wide open and released those bitter tears? I think he saw that he was (still) deeply loved.
When you are following at a distance, and you deny, in word or deed, the One you follow and then you make eye contact with the Man of all Sorrows in.the.midst.of. his.suffering.for.you -
I believe the only thing written in his face is his unfailing, unfaltering love for you.
Even if you think you are too far away to hear his Voice, in your heart you hear the whisper, “Loved.”
and get lost
and follow at a distance
and make a mess of it,
let us dare to look into the eyes of the One whom we follow
and see the unfailing, unfaltering love which He freely offers to us
and to all wandering followers.
Hear His whisper, "Loved."
Let it break your heart as you receive what He freely offers.
This might be what following Jesus looks like.