This time of year, when the weather turns crisp and the leaves reveal their true colors, I think of hiking. For many years my family traveled to a few different state parks to enjoy the fall colors. It eventually came to be known as the Heinold Hike. Mom, Dad, my brother and sister, spouses and children, and eventually grandchildren would pile into cars and travel to Starved Rock, Matthiessen, or Turkey Run to eat, hike, take pictures, and eat some more. And over the years’ various folks that were “adopted” into the family came along as well. All three parks are known for their sandstone cliffs or dells. Those parts of trail beckoned with an adventure which the younger hearts in our group couldn’t resist. As the “mature” kept to the trail, the younger ones would scurry off to explore. Sometimes their adventures took them far from the defined path, but one way or another we all managed to gather back up before we arrived at the end of the trail.
Recalling those wonderful times spent with family and away from TV, phones, and the Internet are precious. Even though I grumbled that our time on the path was more like roaming photo op than a real hike, I wouldn’t change anything. I often wish that I could turn back the clock and live those moments over again. Perhaps it’s those memories that reinforce the reality that following Jesus is a journey. An adventure that begins with two words – follow me.
Matthew records the day that he began his journey with Jesus this way, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:9–13, NASB95) There’re a few things to understand that some may not have heard before. Tax collectors were outcasts in Jewish society. They were rich and collaborated with the Roman Government as well as with Herod and his sons. They were hated and considered “sinners” due to those connections. But notice that Matthew left everything when Jesus called. More than that, Matthew even introduced his friends, other “sinners” and outcasts like himself, to Jesus.
Matthew’s journey with Jesus started that day. We don’t know much more about Matthew. We do know that he is named as an Apostle and that he very likely wrote the Gospel that bears his name. Interestingly Matthew’s gospel is aimed at the same Jewish audience that rejected him for all those years. That little observation about the Gospel of Matthew shines a spotlight on the adventure that began with Jesus’ call to “follow me”. It doesn’t take much imagination to see Matthew’s heart wounds. Even after deciding to follow Jesus the religious law-keepers were still casting him aside. There are many things that can wound our hearts, but rejection is perhaps one of the most painful. While we don’t know the exact journey Jesus led Matthew on, we do know the milestones that he passed. Somewhere along the way, Matthew must have dealt with his bitterness towards those that rejected him. He must have confessed his sin and forgiven those that sinned against him. One way or another Jesus healed Matthew’s heart so thoroughly that he felt compassion instead of disdain for his Jewish detractors. We don’t know how long all of that took, but we do see the evidence of that journey.
Hopefully, you too have felt the call to follow Jesus. It’s somewhat natural to think that our journey ends with that decision, in fact, it is only just beginning. Jesus wants to heal our hearts so completely that we will feel compassion for our enemies, for our bullies, for our abusers, and for those that have rejected us. That is all part of following Jesus. Our hearts would rather push away and ignore those who have hurt us, but God calls us to love them and forgive them in the same way that He has loved and forgiven us. Now, that’s an adventure!