“Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left. ” (Joshua 23:6)
This is far from the only place we see the metaphor of a path being used in scripture. However, it did give rise to a bit of insight as I read it on Saturday. There are two ways to stray off of a path. We can go right or left. Obvious, right?
It would be disingenuous and anachronistic to read into this passage current usage of the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ in terms of theology or politics. However, the biblical record does reveal two ways to wander.
First, and most obvious, is to not do what God has instructed. This is certainly the immediate threat to the fledgling Israel. Indeed, much of the rest of the Old Testament narrative showcases this struggle.
But the second threat is more subtle. In some ways it is an over-correction of the first. Historically, there is some ground for this theory. We see the rise of the Scribes and the Pharisees coming out of the Babylonian captivity and the reasonable desire to not have to go through that again.
The Scribes and the Pharisees–the legalist–attempt to define the path. They attempt to anticipate the leading in each and every conceivable situation. The devise rules to cover everything. It’s not that they set out to slam the door of heaven in men’s faces. (Matthew 23:13) But that is what rules do. We start with a simple injunction and someone keeps asking, “well, what does that mean?” and each and every conceivable situation must be addressed.
Jesus, you may note, was not a big fan of this approach. He had some harsh words for the Pharisees. He called them blind guides. (Matthew 23:16, 24) They were blind because they thought they were on the path, but they were actually leading others astray.
Jesus was not so hard on those who had veered off the other side of the path. The tax collectors, prostitutes and other “sinners” did not try to justify themselves before him. They knew they weren’t on the straight and narrow. Jesus accepts us when we admit our true condition to him.
But both errors–legalism and license–have the same root. Control. Either we want to control how we don’t follow God or we want to control how we do follow God. If we are in control, then we are lord, not anyone else.
Jesus did not come to give us license or legalism. He leads. He is in control if we wish to learn from him.
And he said to them, “Follow me,” (Matthew 4:19)
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me” (Matthew 8:22)
he said to him, “Follow me.” (Matthew 9:9)
“take his cross and follow me” (Matthew 10:38)
“take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24)
“come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Jesus said to them, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17)
he said to him, “Follow me.” (Mark 2:14)
“take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
“come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
Luke and John have 10 more instances, mostly drawn from the same scenes.
Following is surrendering control. I can’t map the way ahead and follow at the same time. If I attempt to, I will become discontent. Eventually, I will probably think I know better and depart from the path. We don’t need to to know where we are going to follow.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:3-6a ESV)
“I am the way.” Jesus does not tell Thomas where he is going. He doesn’t answer Thomas’ question with a destination, but with a means to navigate. I am the way. Follow me. You know the way Thomas, because you’ve been living it.
We must seek the mind of Christ in order to follow him. We must trust his heart, listen to his voice, and follow. It’s hard, there is no map. It’s hard, we can’t stray off to explore on our own. And yet it is as easy as putting our foot into his footprint right ahead of us.