“Following Christ,” is a rich metaphor for the Christian life. The Christian life implies movement: moving from Earth to Heaven. Christ is our guide, our leader, and if we want to end up where He is, we must follow. Sometimes following Christ seems easier, sometimes it seems harder, sometimes it may even seem impossible. In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us that when Jesus saw a crowd gathered around Him, He moved to the other side of the lake. Jesus actually separated Himself from those who were trying to follow Him. A scribe says to Him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus simply tells him that He will not stop anywhere in this world. The Son of Man only rests His head on the bosom of the Father. Finally another asks Jesus permission to take care of his filial duties before embarking on the final Sequitur Christi. Jesus’ answer shows that no duty is a greater priority than following Him.
Following Christ physically is one thing. Following His teaching is another thing. Following Christ with one’s heart is the only way to remain with Him when He goes where otherwise we could not follow. The crowd stuck on the shore when Jesus crosses to the other side were unable to follow Him because they sought some kind of benefit He could provide. If they had sought Him for who He truly is, His person, they would not have been separated from Him when He got in the boat. The one whose heart is with Christ can follow Him everywhere because they are one with Him. The one who seeks a benefit from Christ, or some kind of earthly comfort, or makes other tasks more important than His mission, will find themselves separated from Him.
GREGORY THE GREAT:
He sometimes compares himself with deep condescension, on account of our infirmity, to objects without sense, as he says by the prophet, “Behold, I will shriek over you as a cart creaks when laden with hay.” For since the life of the carnal is hay (as it is written, all flesh is hay), in that the Lord endures the life of the carnal he declares that he carries hay as a cart. And to creak under the weight of the hay is for him to bear with murmuring the burdens and iniquities of sinners. When therefore he applies to himself very unlike resemblances, we must carefully observe that some things of this kind are sometimes spoken of concerning God, on account of the effect of his doings, but sometimes to indicate the substance of his majesty.1
Note once again his freedom from superficialities. He charged the devils not to disclose his identity. He commanded the multitudes to depart. In doing so, he was training all his followers in self-constraint and teaching them to do nothing for display. At the same time he was silencing the envy of his detractors. He thereby showed that he was not a healer of bodies only but also of souls, and a teacher of forbearance. He demonstrated this by first healing their diseases and then by teaching them not to do anything merely for vanity’s sake. The crowds meanwhile were clinging to him, loving him, marveling at him, desiring to be with him. For who would want to depart from one who performed such miracles? Who would not long to linger there, even if it were only to glimpse his face and the mouth that was saying such things?2
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
But it is only to the disciples that Jesus “gave orders to cross over to the other side,” lest, from the crowds pressing about him, his disciples should be prevented from hearing those very teachings that were most appropriate for them. To the disciples he revealed God’s future mysteries more deeply than in the things that were spoken to the crowds only “in parables.” Only the disciples had left behind all present goods and followed him through love of learning. He commands them to cross over from temporary things to eternal things, from the earthly to the heavenly, from the carnal to the spiritual.3
He does not openly convict those who were up to mischief. He replies to their secret thoughts, leaving it to themselves only to know they are convicted.… These were not the words of one who was turning his back on the scribe but rather of one who was making clear to the scribe his own proud disposition, even while yet permitting him, if he were willing to proceed, to follow him. After the scribe had heard Jesus’ convicting response and had been proven to be wholly unready for it, he did not then proceed to say, “I am ready to follow you.” Similarly there are many other places where Christ made this sort of subtle response.4
MAXIMUS OF TURIN:
The scribe’s declaration is prompt indeed, but proud. The Lord was on his way toward his final suffering, descent into hell and ascent into heaven. Is human frailty really prepared to follow him “wherever he goes”? This is more a foolish presumption than a confession of faith. Later the Lord would say to the apostle Peter, when he thought that he would follow the Savior in every circumstance: “Where I am going you are not able to follow me now.” And when Peter obstinately insisted and said that death would not separate him from [Jesus], he heard that he would deny the Lord three times. In this he was censured, as it were, for his pride. Thus the one who promised, while confessing Christ, that he would not be separated from him by death is cut off from fellowship with him by a little maidservant’s question.5
MAXIMUS OF TURIN:
Every Christian who wishes to hide his sins is spiritually a fox. For just as the fox lives in a hidden place because of its deceit, so also the sinner conceals himself in dens, guarding silence because of his knowledge of his sins. Just as the fox does not dare to manifest the deceitfulness of its deeds in the midst of society, so also the sinner is ashamed to confess the wickedness of his life in the midst of the church. One is a fox who sets up a snare for his neighbor, who daily strives to nibble away at others’ property, steal their fruits and devour their animals and—what is common in our day—seize swine like wolves and not only chickens, as the foxes do. Although he is strong enough to live by his own labor, he prefers to take pillage like the madness of a wild beast.6
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
The worship of God requires putting God before all other things we think of as precious. In this way we will not, like Cain, be found relegating secondary things to God. In a similar way, the old law prohibited the priests from drawing near to dead bodies and commanded them to keep away even from services for their own family and not to succumb to excessive fleshly sympathy. But while the law taught through shadows, Christ teaches in a way wholly transparent and undisguised. Whoever wishes to serve God must not let any ties of kinship become an excuse, on grounds of preoccupation, for not following Christ. Christ himself, for the benefit of those who were with him, even slighted his own mother and brothers, saying, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” and “Such a one is my mother.”7
The statement “Let the dead bury their dead” implies spiritually: Waste no more time on dead things. You are to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry.” These things therefore are dead. Cast them away from you. Cut them off as you would cut off gangrenous flesh to prevent the contamination of the whole body, so that you may not hear it said, “Leave the dead to bury their dead.” But to some it seems abnormal and contradictory that the Savior does not allow the disciple to bury his father. It seems inhumane. But Jesus does not in fact forbid people from burying the dead, but rather he puts before this the preaching of the kingdom of heaven, which makes people alive. As for burying the body, there were many people who could have done this.8
- MORALS ON THE BOOK OF JOB 6.32.7. Ferreiro, A. (2003). Introduction to the Twelve Prophets. In A. Ferreiro (Ed.), The Twelve Prophets (p. 90). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 27.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 165). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 97. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 165–166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 27.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 41.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 41.4. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 98. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 161. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.