I never finished it because, on an flight from New York to Atlanta, I was talking with a Jewish person about Jesus, and the only literature that I had on me was the book I was reading. I hope that some things in Miller's book was helpful.
Anyway, read this expert from Blue Like Jazz and then I have a question, and a bit of a survey...
A long time ago I went to a concert with my friend Rebecca. Rebecca can sing better than anybody I've ever heard sing. I heard this folksinger was coming to town, and I thought she might like to see him because she was a singer too. The tickets were twenty bucks, which is a lot to pay if you're not on a date. Between songs, though, he told a story that helped me resolve some things about God. The story was about his friend who was a Navy SEAL. He told it like it was true, so I guess it was true, although it could have been a lie.
The folksinger said his friend was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His friend's team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room, the folksinger said, was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified, When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans, The SEALS asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn't. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn't believe their rescuers were really Americans.
The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn't possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALs, the folksinger's friend, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. “Will you follow us?” he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.
I never liked it when the preachers said we had to follow Jesus. Sometimes they would make Him sound angry. But I liked the story the folksinger told.
Now... I liked the story too. Isn't it a TOP illustration? Doesn't it resonate? Almost every other sermon I wonder if I can squeeze it in somewhere. It's that kind of illustration. It fits in with the current desire to preach a 'beautiful' Jesus, and it works perfectly with our current language with regard to sin: we are 'broken and hurting' (rather than willful and rebellious).
But my question: Is it a true representation of Jesus' command to 'follow him'?
I don't want to buy it simply because it resonates with me. So I did a little work in the Gospels. Here are the results of my survey:
- Take a read of THESE verses. They are far more aggressive than Miller's illustration may suggest. It is far more in line with Bonhoeffer's bold statement: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." There is no softened look. There is not question (will you follow me?), but a command. This is not the 'hero whispering', it is the Lord commanding.
- I found THESE texts to be more neutral on the topic. There isn't the suggestion that these men have a sense of 'brokenness'. They are called to follow, and they simply do.
- But THESE are verses of people who follow because they were healed, or cared for. They are Jesus getting down beside and with suffering people. Interestingly, he makes no command to follow him -- they just follow.
- THIS verse from Luke comes very close. 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick': the captive whose very need means that he is invited to follow.
- And the most interesting result: Miller's illustration has the strongest case in the Gospel John! THESE verses are all from John.
I'm aware that this is a lot of words for a Blog, but it may make a good Bible Study for some Home Group or something. Or...comment away...
Do you like the illustration? Is it exegetically or theologically accurate? Does it ring your bell?