Have you ever experienced the feeling of being called out in a crowd? Do you remember hiding behind the head of the student in front of you so the teacher wouldn’t call your name to answer a question or solve a problem on the board? Perhaps you have avoided eye contact with performers at a show as they scanned the audience for volunteers. Maybe you have participated in a prayer group and secretly hoped the leader wouldn’t ask you to lead the group in a closing prayer. There can be comfort in anonymity. We sometimes prefer to be lost in the crowd and not called out. The shadows feel safer than the spotlight.
There have been occasions when my enjoyment of a show turned to dread as the performers left the stage to wander the audience looking for a “victim” to become part of the show. My mind was screaming, “Please don’t walk over towards me!” All I wanted was to enjoy the show, not become part of it. Of course, if I ever was chosen I would play along and make the best of it. I’m a bit of a ham when I want to turn loose. The discomfort is in that initial feeling of being plucked from the security of my shadow. The heat of the spotlight burns a bit at first.
Think about all the crowds that followed Jesus around watching him perform miracles and listening to him teach. Imagine being one of those people in the crowd. There you are, listening to the power and impact of his words. Maybe you were close enough to actually see him heal someone or drive out a demon. What if you were among the crowd of five thousand people who were fed from a few fishes and loaves of bread? Wouldn’t that be amazing? What a show that would be!
As you stand on your toes and crane your neck to get a better view, you notice that Jesus has turned to face your direction. He begins to slowly move towards where you are standing and you wonder where he is going. “Wow,” you think to yourself, “He’s headed this way! I’ll get an even better look at him!” (You would be wishing you lived in the 21st century so you could pull out your smart phone and get a picture or even a video of him as he passes by). The crowd separates and opens a path for Jesus as he draws ever closer to your location. Now you can see the whites of his eyes.
As he comes closer you realize his eyes are looking towards where you are standing and you are curious about what he is looking at. You look around and behind yourself to discern where he may be headed. When you look back at him again it seems as if he is looking right at you. At first you are somewhat amused. Then, as it becomes apparent that he has made eye contact with you and is not looking away, your face become flushed and a sense of dread comes over you as the blood seems to drain from your body. Slowly, yet quite intentionally, Jesus comes face-to-face with you. He gazes into your eyes, raises his hand and says, “Come. Follow me.” The crowd is now staring at you. They are waiting to see what you will do.
Now, let us travel to the present day. You are sitting in a pew in a church. There are many other people around you. You sit through the service. You listen to the readings and the preaching. You sing a song or two. You watch the activity in front of you. Perhaps you even feel inspired. When the “show” is over, you leave and go home. Once again you have taken your place in the shadows. You have remained anonymous. You are comfortably lost in a crowd. Or, so you think.
Jesus calls all of us by name. He calls us out from the shadows. As surely as he stepped into Peter’s boat, he steps into our lives and beckons us to follow him. He calls us, not only to open our hearts to him, but to live life with him. He calls us to participate, not to observe. It is not a moment of acceptance he asks for, but a lifetime of conversion. Do we avoid his gaze? Do we hide behind the person in the pew in front of us? He shines the light on us and says, “Come. Follow me.” What will we do? The harvest is rich and the labourers are few.
What will you have me do, Lord?