Are You An Admirer or a Follower?
There were a lot of people in the Gospel stories who admired Jesus. But there were not that many who moved from being admirers to followers.
Let me share two verses to illustrate this point...
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. - John 6:66
When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Matthew 28:17Aside from the rather ominous reference number for the John verse (6:66!), there's something about these verses that is kind of shocking, but you'd have to read the verses that led up to them to see it.
So let me fill you in...
The passage from John comes right after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand on the barren hillsides of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus gives a difficult teaching after the miracle about the commitment that it will take to be a follower rather than merely an admirer, and "many of his disciples turned back."
And get this... The passage from Matthew comes right after Jesus appears to his followers after being raised from the dead. The implication is that some of these people weren't ready to buy it. The evidence was right in front of them, but they were suspicious, unwilling to accept that someone could actually be raised from the dead.
Plus, what they were being asked to do (Go out into all the world and preach the Gospel) would require them to move, and they weren't willing to go anywhere.
Philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard once wrote:
What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.The idea here is that someone who is an admirer of Jesus holds at arm's length the claims that Jesus makes, the commands that Jesus gave, the example that Jesus challenges us to follow.
An admirer can look, act, and even seem like a follower---until things get difficult. When the way gets challenging, admirers show their true feelings by generally refusing to budge. Followers step into the difficult moments, hang on for dear life to their faith in Jesus, and keep walking.
Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote:
It has been said that religion is largely filled with people who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through hell.Religion can be a safe haven for admirers of Jesus. It's easy to hide behind doctrines, rules, regulations, theology, dogmatic beliefs, and the like.
Within Religion, admirers of Jesus prefer comfort over following, and so they reinforce their positions, their dualistic thinking, and will often use Scripture in weaponized ways to keep other admirers from becoming followers.
But for those who have gone through hell, as Fr. Richard puts it, they know better. Being an admirer isn't going to cut it. They realize that Spirituality is the only space where they feel right, feel alive.
Those that move from admiration of Jesus to following Jesus know that there will be discomfort in letting go of all the preconceived notions that they clung to desperately when they were an admirer.
They know there will be challenges to face if they begin stumbling after Christ.
But they also know that it wasn't necessarily Religion that got them through whatever hell they had to endure, whatever trial or tribulation or challenge that the faced. It was their faith in Christ... their willingness to follow where Christ was leading them---even if it was hard.
When the way of Christ becomes a difficult path to follow---that is when we have to do the good work of asking ourselves:
"Am I an admirer, or a follower? Am I ready to stumble after Jesus even if I don't know the way, or do I prefer to remain here where I am even though it's not where Christ wants me to be?"
These are challenging times we are facing. Christ is calling us forward. We all have a choice to admire Christ from afar or to follow and begin stumbling toward the kingdom of God after Him.
May we all make the right choice. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all now and forever. Amen.
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