It’s easy to play the comparison game. I don’t know why some people are more intelligent than others, or more successful than others. I don’t understand why some people struggle in many ways more than others. I don’t understand why some people are healthy while others have health issues their entire lives. If we are all loved equally by the same God, why are our situations so different?
Peter plays this comparison game at the end of the book of John. Jesus revealed to Peter that Peter was going to die by “stretching out his arms” implying crucifixion. After this is made known to Peter, Peter looks over his shoulder at John and asks, “What about him?” Jesus responds by saying, “What’s it to you? You follow me!”
On the one hand, Jesus calls all of us individually to different things. On the other hand, Jesus calls all of us to the same kind of life.
1) We are all called to different things.
Jesus calls all of us to something different, but I believe that everything Jesus does is for our good and our benefit. God wants to save our hearts from destruction, and the way he does that is sometimes by removing the things our hearts love the most. The word of God is like a two edged sword, living and active. It pierces our hearts and reveals the dark truth of our own souls. Sometimes God places us into circumstances that, when combined with his Word, almost turn that metaphor into a literal, painful reality to show us where our true allegiance lies.
One time a wealthy young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man called Jesus “good teacher”, and Jesus responded by saying that no one is good but the Father. I believe Jesus was saying two things here.
First, he was trying to see if the man believed that Jesus was God. Did the rich young man actually believe that Jesus was one with the Father?
Second, I believe he was trying to figure out if the man believed that someone other than God could be moral enough to inherit eternal life. If he believed that someone other than God could be good, then he would believe that maybe he could also be good enough on his own to inherit eternal life.
When Jesus answers his question about how to inherit eternal life, Jesus starts to list the ten commandments, saying that he must keep them all. The rich guy completely misses the point Jesus is making (that no one is good enough), and claims to have kept all of the commandments from childhood to adulthood.
But then Jesus gives him one more command to sell all he has, give the money to the poor, and follow him. In doing this, he puts him in a spot where he must choose between two desirable things, and his choice would reveal where his heart was. Jesus made him choose between his wealth or following him.
Like the wealthy young guy, our deepest problem is not in our ability to conform to certain standards. Our problem lies deep in the loves and affections of our hearts. Who or what do we really love, and who or what are we loyal to?
The rich guy went away sad. I don’t know if he simply gave up on Jesus or if he went away, took some time to think, and then decided Jesus was worth it. We don’t know the end of the story. However, Jesus did say that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The wrong application of this would be to think, “Oh good, well, I’m not rich.” The correct application is to understand that though you may not be financially rich, you are rich in something. There is something in your life that makes following Jesus feel like a risk if you were to lose that thing.
For the young man in this story, it was money. God doesn’t ask everyone to sell all they have and give away the money. Each of us faces different situations, and the Word of God confronts all of us in a different way.
It’s not our job to compare. When Jesus foreshadowed to Peter that he would be crucified, Peter looked at John and asked, “What about him?” Jesus told him that was none of his business. Peter was supposed to follow Jesus and only worry about that.
We are all called to something different, and God knows exactly how to attack and cut away the things that threaten our hearts the most.
Though it is painful, God’s intentions toward us are good. It is the actions of a good Father who has saved and is sanctifying our souls. God knows what is best for us.
2) We are all called to the same thing
Even though our journeys to follow Jesus are all different, we are also all called to the same kind of life. I love Jesus’ response to Peter when Peter asks about John. Jesus says, “What’s it to you? You follow me!”
It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, married or single, a parent or childless, young or old, man or woman, educated or uneducated, have rights or live under persecution, or anything else. If following Jesus leads us to a life of wealth and prosperity or to a life of martyrdom, we are called to follow Jesus no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus says that in order to follow him we must humble ourselves, becoming like a servant. He repeatedly says that in his kingdom, the first shall be last and the last first. It is those who humble themselves the most who are considered the greatest in his kingdom.
There are two metaphors Jesus used to give us a picture of what truly following him is like, and this is true for everyone. The first is a picture of crucifixion. We must be willing to even be crucified if we want to be his disciple. This is both literal and figurative. Some people will be tortured or martyred for the sake of Christ. All of us, however, have to wake up and choose to die to self every day and submit to the will of Christ if we want to be his disciple. The second picture is the picture of the narrow, difficult path. Jesus said that the path to life is narrow, hard, and difficult to see. It’s much easier to follow the path to destruction. It’s easily visible, many people follow it, and not difficult.
Though it may look different for each individual, truly following Jesus means death to self and taking on a difficult path regardless of who you are. Sometimes this looks like humbly submitting to a road that seems more difficult than what others have to travel in their lives.
It’s tempting to play the game of comparison and be frustrated that others have an easier life than we do. The truth is, some people do have easier lives than others. Some people have more hardships to struggle through than others. It’s easy to look around and wonder why the people around us are more successful, have better marriages, have more friends, have more money, or anything else that tempts us to play the game of comparison. I don’t know why it’s like this, but I do know that God works all things together for the good of his children. I know that he does all things out of his love for us, and when we submit to that we will find joy. I also believe Jesus’ response to our comparison game would be the same as his response to Peter: What’s it to you? You follow me!