18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
When Jesus called the core of his band of disciples, those words, “Come, follow me,” he established the beginning of a movement—he forged a way, a path, a trail for them to follow.
For Jesus’ disciples, leaving everything behind, including their families and work, meant literally following Jesus into his Galilean ministry campaign, where he would preach his gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent and believe the good news,” and he would heal every kind of disease and disability.
Those of us who hear Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me,” from a great distance—across the globe, two millennia later—need a road map for where the trail goes and how it gets us there. For Jesus, the path ultimately led upward—an ascent onto the Cross, out of the tomb, to the right hand of his Father. When we hear Jesus say more specifically, “Take up your cross and follow me,” we’re assured of the same destination. And Jesus reveals the path or way of ascent in the following chapters (Matthew 5-7), his Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the blessed way of the Beatitudes. Simply put, we only reach our destination by following Jesus because his footsteps mark the trail of trust on his path of grace. So he beckons us to follow him step-by-step.
“FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW”
I needn’t over-explain the popular poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” but you’ll recall that in that context, ONE set of footprints seemed to indicate that God had abandoned the poet, when in fact, those were the times when God was carrying her.
On my first Father’s Day after my dad (Lloyd Jersak) graduated to the “great cloud of witnesses,” I was again meditating on Jesus’ call, “Follow me,” and it invoked a vivid memory. Our family lived by Killarney Lake in Manitoba, Canada. Over winter, the lake iced over, and subsequent snowfalls would lay down layers of snow—some fluffy, some heavy and wet, some granular and crunchy. During certain years, there was hardly any snow, and we could skate across the lake on clean ice. At other times, the snow used to pile up, even two or three feet deep.
I remember when I was a child, still less than ten years old, Dad led me out onto the lake. “Follow me,” he said, “Stay exactly in my footsteps.” Dad’s weight (180 pounds) would pack down the snow so that if I walked exactly where he walked, I wouldn’t sink at all (I weighed under 100 pounds). It was easy, and my feet stayed warm and dry. All it required was trusting the trail of compacted snow he had created for me. I was walking on Lloyd-packed water!
But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, I might step out of his snowprints and leave the trail. We called what happened next “post-holing,” where my foot immediately penetrated the snow, and I would sink all the way down to my crotch. Snow would fill my boots and pant legs, and when I tried to step up, I couldn’t right myself without post-holing the other leg. Sometimes in struggling to escape, a boot came right off, and I found my socked foot in icy cold water, soaking in the bottom strata between the snow and ice.
It was always strange to see Dad, twice my height and weight, standing atop the snow while I was sinking like Peter on the Sea of Galilee. But he would always pull me out, retrieve my boots, ring out my socks, and say, “Follow my footprints” back to the house.
So, unlike the “Footprints in the Sand” poem, my winter experience was that two sets of footprints meant I left the path to my own discomfort and peril. But one set of footprints indicated the good news that (1) Dad had created a path I couldn’t create on my own, and (2) as I followed in his tracks, our walk was more delight than disaster. Thus, I experienced grace first as (1) the trail he forged for me and (2) also the “salvation” of his strong hands lifting me up when I wandered and got stuck. And that seems like a good and true parable to me.