Following Jesus always require that we leave something behind. Some things to be left behind are obvious such as sins, bad attitudes, and selfish ways; some are less obvious like dispositions, privilege, or the need for power.
Last week I was with a small country church that was reflecting on the Gospel of Mark’s version of the “Rich, Young Ruler.” At the climatic turn in the story, Jesus calls for the man to sell all of his possessions, give them to the poor and then follow him.
Jesus did not require every disciple to sell their possessions so it seems that Jesus could tell that this particular man’s possession had a strangle-hold on him. The man’s response to Jesus validates this, as Mark narrates, “… he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22 NRSV).
Later, Peter will respond to Jesus’ teaching about the difficulty the rich have in entering the kingdom of God with “Look, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). While, somewhat self-serving, Peter did leave something behind to follow Jesus. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark several people left things behind to follow Jesus.
At the beginning of the Gospel when Jesus called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, they responded by “leaving their nets and following Jesus.” Likewise, when the next set of brothers, James and John, were summoned, they “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands, and followed him” (Mark 1:16-20). The cost of following Jesus, it appears, means leaving something behind.
This does not appear to be an isolated theme in the Gospel of Mark. When Mark tells of the calling of Levi, a tax collector (Mark 2:13-14), Mark notices that Levi “got up and followed Jesus,” even though at the time he was on the job. Levi left working for the imperial government to serve the kingdom of God.
The healed demoniac was willing to leave his home and friends to follow Jesus. Here, against the normal flow of things, Jesus refused to let the man follow him personally, but calls on him to tell “what the Lord has done for you” among his own family and friends (Mark 5:1-20). This is how most of us will follow Jesus today.
Later in the Markan narrative, the blind man named Bartimaeus will seek healing from Jesus (10:46-52). In coming to Jesus, he will throw off his cloak, leaving it behind. Once Bartimaeus had received his sight, he “followed Jesus on the way.”
In a turning point moment in the Passion Narrative (Mark 11-16), when Jesus is arrested, Mark, sadly, no doubt, notes that the remaining eleven disciples deserted Jesus and fled (14:50). Almost ironically, the word deserted in the Greek is the same word for leaving something behind used in the stories about the calling of the disciples mentioned above. The left all to follow Jesus and now the left all to abandon Jesus.
Immediately following this announcement of desertion on the part of Jesus’ disciples, Mark tells the curious story of a young man who was following Jesus at the time of Jesus’ arrest (14:51-52). Oddly, it seems, the young man was wearing nothing but a linen cloth. The soldiers grabbed him but “he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” This story, whatever its meaning, serves as an anti-discipleship story: here is how not to follow Jesus, so to speak.
So, consistently, throughout the Gospel, Mark illustrates that to follow Jesus one must leave something behind. Mark’s story of Jesus then raises two pertinent questions:
- What are you willing to leave behind for Jesus?
- What are not unwilling to give up for Jesus?
Discipleship is lived out between those two questions, don’t you think?