Some Thoughts on The Words of Jesus

During quarantine I have been reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart with my friend. We have spent time talking about the relationship between the Buddhist teachings found in the book and the teachings of our Christian faith. After reading a particularly challenging chapter, my friend, summing up what we read, used her own words to quote Jesus:

“Drop everything and follow me.”

Or, as Matthew 19, verse 21 says: “‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to poor people, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.’”

Jesus doubles down on what it means to follow the call of Christ. We heard it just last week in the first chapter of Mark (vv. 17-18): “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me; I will make you fishers of humankind.’ They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus.” And again in chapter 9 of Luke (v. 3): “Jesus told them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither walking staff, nor traveling bag, nor bread, nor money. Don’t even take a change of clothes.’”

In other words, “Drop everything and follow me.”

The reason these words left me astounded was in the connection to Pema’s writing. When I think of dropping everything to follow Jesus, I think of dropping my possessions, my agenda, maybe the physical proximity of relationships I treasure.

Pema says the way to inner freedom is through an embrace of the three truths of our existence: impermanence, suffering, and egolessness. Impermanence in every regard: of our emotions, of the present moment, impermanence even of our suffering. Nothing—not the good, or the bad, the happy or the sad, or the labels we put on any of it—lasts. Because of this, we can practice relaxing with what’s in front of us because it’s going to pass. We can practice embracing and then dropping it all: our emotions, our current realities, and especially our judgments about it all. When we are able to drop the moment, recognizing that its very nature is to come and go, we experience freedom and peace. Simple, right? Needless to say, this has been very important pandemic reading.

Our Christian dharma says that freedom comes from following and living the arc of Jesus’ life with him. Egolessness, suffering, and impermanence, by other words, are the way of humility and resurrection. The way to follow Christ is to let go. But, this isn’t just about dropping my possessions, or letting go of whatever I’m doing. To truly follow Christ I have to drop so much more, and it’s really hard stuff to drop. I have to be willing to drop my grudges, my sense of security, my view of right and wrong, my expectations, and even the things that make me happy and feel good. In that letting go, I will find a very tender openness that readies me to welcome what comes next.

In that emptiness, I have to be able to hold everything ever-so-loosely and let go even of the things I love. Haven’t we learned that over and over again this past year? All we have is the present moment. And we gracefully drop that so the next moment might arise in us unhindered by our expectations and our ego. We let life resurrect, and in turn, we find that we ourselves are doing the same.

Isn’t this the way of Christ—humility and resurrection? Isn’t that the faith we profess to live?

Drop everything and follow Jesus.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

*Bible verses quoted from The Inclusive Bible.