At the click of a Twitter button you can follow almost anyone. At least you can be kept up to date with their news in no more than 140 characters. Other people we follow more intently. We go to their concerts. We read their books and blogs. We join their fan club or mailing list.
When Jesus asked those first disciples to “follow him” (Luke 5:27), what did he mean? As those who are his disciples today, what does it mean to follow him now?
For the first disciples, indeed for every first century Jew, the words ‘follow me’ were packed with meaning. Every Jewish boy grew up wanting to be a rabbi. The whole education system was geared to that end. You would be taught and trained right through childhood. This included memorizing the first five books of the Bible before going on to memorize the whole of the Old Testament! A rabbi would choose who followed him. They naturally chose only the best of the best. A rabbi was looking for someone who would learn all that the rabbi taught in order that he might be able to do all that the rabbi himself did. The disciple was to become everything that the rabbi was. That’s what it meant to follow: to become like your rabbi. Most dropped out of the grueling education process, or were never chosen. Typically they would then take up their father’s trade, maybe carpentry or fishing. The words ‘Follow me!” were reserved for the chosen few.
When Jesus called his first disciples to follow him they knew exactly what he meant. He was calling them to learn all that he taught in order that they might do all that he did and so become all that he was. He was calling them to become like him. That’s what it meant to follow. To become like Him. That’s the discipleship to which we too are called.