There’s a word that is used over and over again throughout the Bible that has also become incredibly popular in our contemporary culture over the last decade. It’s the word FOLLOW. The word follow is used over 250 times in scripture—and Jesus himself says the phrase ‘follow me’ twenty-one different times in the Gospels. And it makes sense that the word ‘follow’ is used so frequently in scripture, because following is central to a life with God.
The word follow has also become a regular part of the contemporary lexicon through the advent of social media. Facebook uses this word as the primary way to use their product and network with others. You want to use Facebook…you follow someone. To follow on Facebook means you will receive regular updates about what they are doing and what they choose to share with their followers.
The irony of the Bible and Facebook using the same word so often, however, is that when they each use the word follow, they mean almost the exact opposite thing as the other. As Bishop Curry so astutely pointed out in his sermon during the Royal Wedding, social media is a socially dysfunctional way to connect with each other. So, when Facebook allows me to follow someone online, they are only guaranteeing that I will know some information about that person (whatever the person chooses to share). But following someone on Facebook in no way guarantees that I will actually be in relationship with that person. In fact, research shows that a Facebook relationship may actually stunt a relationship. Following, on Facebook, is shallow, impersonal, and often fails to result in any actual relationship.
To follow Jesus, however, is the exact opposite. To follow Jesus means you have moved beyond a surface knowledge of Jesus and entered into a deep, abiding, day-in-and-day-out commitment to walking the way and path of Jesus. Following Jesus is costly and demands our dedication and intentionality. Following Jesus means I will actually know Jesus—in a deep and abiding way—and our actual relationship will result in a change in lifestyle and behavior. Where following someone on Facebook is superficial and detached, following Jesus is profound and personal.
But the temptation is out there to follow Jesus in a Facebook sort of way—to know a few things about him, show up to church once in a while, and never allow his radical message of love, inclusion, hospitality, and holistic salvation to soak into our being and impact us at the core. We can even attend church weekly while still not following Jesus the way he invites us to.
But, while following Jesus is challenging and daunting, it is a good and beautiful way to live and is worthy of our efforts. May we be willing to take this challenge of following Jesus—abandoning the easy, comfortable, Facebook way of following—taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus into lives of radical humility and sacrificial love.