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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Discipleship: 'Follow me' into community

“Who do you say that I am?” The question Jesus posed to Peter at Caesarea Philippi echoes down the centuries. For us, as for Peter, the response directs the journey. According to Mark’s Gospel, Peter didn’t answer correctly. He told Jesus: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29), drawing on popular anticipation of a desert warrior who would restore the promised land to the Jews.

When Jesus corrected him, presenting himself as the Suffering Servant and not a Rambo from the desert, Peter rebuked him. Jesus cut the conversation short: “Get behind me, Satan!” Another master would have cut Peter off entirely, leaving him and his wishful thinking in the dust. But Jesus didn’t abandon Peter; Jesus kept him on the journey. And if there’s hope for Peter, there’s hope for the rest of us. Put positively, Jesus’ response translates into the central invitation of discipleship: “Follow me.” These words mark the beginning and end of the practice of discipleship. This invitation began Peter’s journey, as Jesus encountered him fishing. “Follow me,” Jesus said, and Peter dropped his net to get behind him.

The same invitation concluded the journey. These were the last words Jesus spoke to Peter before his ascension. The last chapter of John’s Gospel finds Jesus cooking the disciples breakfast after a night of fishing. As the meal ended, Jesus asked Peter the same question three times: “Do you love me?” Peter responded warmly and positively, and each of his professions of loyalty erased one of his denials on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. The conversation concludes with the invitation of discipleship: “Follow me” (John 21:19, 22).


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