Question: When Jesus said,“Follow me” what do you think he meant?
Historically speaking, we cannot presume to know what was in the mind of Jesus. Unlike Paul, who left a number of letters from his own hand, we have no direct writings from Jesus. We have the works of four evangelists who painted word pictures based entirely on hearsay. As these writers were not historians, they employed Jesus as a literary tool to advocate a religious position that Jesus himself may not have endorsed. Of course, short of finding an original diary or other writings from him, we can only speculate on what he may or may not have approved.
Who is this me we are encouraged to follow? In most cases, it is not a man and his teachings but a composite narrative hammered out by a religious sect. That so many Christian sects have risen from a single man illustrates the complexity of the problem. In the religious arena, we’re not being offered the choice to follow the discovery of the man, but an interpretation of the man — what he said, why he said it, and what it is supposed to mean to us. Differing views of a given orthodoxy are simply dismissed as irrelevant and misleading.
An insightful proverb reads, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). This statement points to a way that doesn’t work, but it also implies there is a way not so obvious to the average person, but its end is the way to life. This way is an understanding that places the individual in harmony with universal laws of expression, a way that has always been followed by nature. When I hear Jesus say, follow me, I hear him saying, place yourself, as I am doing, in harmony with the universal laws of expression. His relevance to his followers, after all, rests on their ability to implement the insights he offers. The way, the truth, and the life that he offered is not a gift of the man Jesus. The gift is in what the man discovered. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field have always partaken of this gift. I can imagine Jesus saying, they are doing it, I am doing it, and you may do it as well.
Do what? Look beyond the way that seems right to a man, the way the world is following, and find the way that is right. Is there such a way? Yes, but this way follows an inside-out pathway that runs counter to the outside-in buildup of the self-image we are conditioned to follow. We are trained to think it is necessary to complete ourselves through career, position, marriage, credentials, and other various accomplishments.
When we arrive on this earth, the world immediately treats us as an empty vessel to be filled from the outside-in. The very process of our birth, however, illustrates a flow from the invisible to the visible. The body is but the biological vehicle of the soul. And what is the soul? Is it a blank slate that requires interaction with the material realm to advance its stature? No. The soul is a focal point, the transitional mechanism designed to bring the invisible into the visible.
When I speak of God as the Creative Life Force, I’m saying the soul is the creative component of this term. The soul serves as the basis of all that is seen. John made the distinction between God and the Word through which all things are made. God is the universal, the soul is the Word, the universal transitioning into the personal.
Jesus’ admonition to “follow me” is a way of saying, put yourself in the position where you are having the same direct experience with God that I am having. Identify yourself, not as the senses-based self-image, but as the soul you are. If Jesus is to mean anything to us, then he has to represent a level of experience that is accessible to all.
This, of course, is in keeping with the notion of omnipresence, that there is literally no place where God is not. Jesus demonstrated the spiritual status of every person. It’s important to understand that he was not unusual in this regard. What set him apart was that he was grounded in this spiritual aspect. When he said I and me, he spoke from the soul. If you have seen me (the soul), you have seen the Father; there’s no place where God leaves off and I begin. And what is true of me is true of all.
He undoubtedly arrived at this conclusion by turning his attention to the inner spring of the soul and asking, Who am I? The understanding he gleaned was the assurance that you are the son of the living God. But he would have understood the universal nature of the soul, that every person who made this inner inquiry would get the same answer. I think Jesus was saying, Do not follow me, the flesh and blood man, but follow me in your focus on the soul and asking this same question: Who am I? You too will experience your own revelation of oneness with God, the spiritual source of your being.
I believe the temptations of Jesus symbolize the struggle of his own inner inquiry. Considering that no one but Jesus would have been witness to this episode, the gospel version is likely a metaphorical account of the distractions he encountered and overcame, a subject he certainly would have discussed with those in his inner circle. “Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’”(Matt. 19:27).
His baptism by John represents the initial revelation, though this too is likely dramatized. The temptations that follow represent a permanent shift from a life based on the values of the self-image — Paul’s natural man — to a life based on the values of the spiritual man, the soul. This shift is key to his departure from the values that drive standard human thinking. The portrayal of forgoing worldly power and riches was presented in a more easily digested literary form that later served as the basis of the accounts found in Matthew and Luke. In reality, the tempter is the drive to pursue those things that empower and build up the self-image. We encounter this devil each time we try to silence the busy mind and move into a direct experience with God.
Again, we cannot presume to know what was in the mind of Jesus. We can realize that the greatest objective in our pursuit of spiritual understanding is not to understand his mind, but our own. I feel certain that he would as quickly steer our attention away from himself as the good teacher, and turn it to our own inner connection with God. “Why do you call me good? None is good, save one, that is God.”
Had we never heard of the man Jesus, we would still be expressions of the Infinite, and the longing to know our spiritual source would continue to stir in our heart. It is in our response to this stirring that we find in ourselves that very ideal exemplified in Jesus.