In Jesus’ time, it was customary for a would-be disciple to pick the rabbi who would become his mentor/teacher. He would scout a “master” much the same way an aspiring student today picks a college, studying his options and picking the rabbi he felt would best equip him for future success.

In this kind of environment, some potential disciples were inherently more prestigious than others. For instance, a lowly, uneducated fisherman would rank near the bottom of a rabbi’s wish list. A scribe on the other hand would’ve been a prized recruit for just about any rabbi.

Although many ancient Jews could read and write, only a small number had regular access to writing and reading materials, and an even smaller portion actually had access to the Scriptures—but a scribe had both. A scribe, then, was already well-educated, skilled at reading and writing, and very knowledgeable about the Old Testament books. Within the elite group of scribes an even more prestigious group of leaders had emerged: experts in teaching and interpreting Scripture. These were “teachers of the law. It was one of these super-elite scholars who declared his intent to choose Jesus as his rabbi/mentor (Matthew 8:18-20).

Jesus should have been thrilled by the man’s decision. This was like an NFL team signing a coveted, free-agent quarterback. A teacher of the law would’ve been a prestigious addition to Christ’s team of disciples, everyone knew that. Perhaps even this particular teacher of the law knew it. Maybe he thought he was doing Jesus a favor by joining his followers, we can’t be sure. But we do know he liked the idea (maybe the reciprocal prestige?) of being associated with the immensely-popular Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ response to landing this prized recruit was unexpected. “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” he said. It appears he was actually trying to talk the man out of his decision!

Instead of welcoming the star disciple into his fold, Jesus redefined discipleship for him. There would be no prestige or perks waiting for him as a follower of Jesus. Rather, he would have to give up his place of honor among the religious establishment. He’d be expected to endure sacrifice, hardship, and a deliberate abandonment of the demand for basic human necessities such as home and hearth. It was going to be all or nothing—just the way Jesus lived it and also the way he intended it to be.

We assume today that, upon hearing Jesus response, this teacher of the law changed his mind about following Jesus. It’s certainly possible this is true, but Matthew doesn’t tell the final outcome of this encounter. So, until we know otherwise, I like to believe this man meant it when he said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go”—even when it meant humbling himself and abandoning all the comforts and prestige he’d know before.

 

Works Cited:

[ZB1, 58-59]

 

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