We are called to be followers of Jesus, not inhabitants, not owner, not investors. The Gospel is an invitation to move, to leave something behind and join God’s people as they meander towards something else, though they don’t know where.
Yesterday in church, we read part of a text from Exodus – “They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.”
In the Exodus story , we’re all familiar with God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea where he validated his power and encouraged his people to follow with a reckless abandon towards the Promised Land. But something new caught my eye in this story only yesterday – the people had to leave before the waters were parted.
At the moment the Israelites took their first steps towards God’s future, nothing had really changed. They were still an enslaved people living in a fearful and fragmented world. The Pharaoh was fickle and the weather was even more so – all the conventional wisdom of the day probably begged for patience. “Don’t rock the boat, don’t try anything out of the ordinary – let’s wait this out until things settle down again. Too much uncertainty, too little room for error, too high of a risk, too little clarity on our goals.”
But as the story goes, the people got word in the middle of the night – the most unexpected, most unreasonable and most inconvenient time possible. At a moment when it would have been easiest to worship the idol of the routine, they sacrificed what they knew in favor of the God-only-knows.
So they left. Sure they left a life of slavery and hard labor, but at least it was known; many of us put up with worse in our lives because we’re too afraid to look for anything different. Even perceived control over our own lives sounds better than giving up control to a God who asks us to commit before we know where we’re going.
One thing I learned while studying the Gospel of Mark this past Spring is that Jesus always favors the vulnerable. Jesus calls all of us to follow, but he seems tenaciously joyful at those who follow because they have nothing else to lose.
Jesus loves the vulnerable, especially the foolishly vulnerable. And there’s nothing more vulnerably foolish than following a crucified Messiah who hasn’t given us proof of our reward. We see it over and over in Mark – the poor widow at the treasury, the centurian with a dying child, the bleeding woman reaching out in the middle of a crowd, the four friends cutting through a roof to get to Jesus.
It takes courage and a supreme trust in God’s mercy to launch out into the unknown before the Red See is miraculously parted. But the promise in the Gospel is that our Lord is already at work in the world, and that mysterious pillar of fire – although it might mess up the sacred routine of our lives, it will always lead us to the cusp of God’s amazing grace.