Jesus said to him, `... What is that to you? Follow me'. John 21:22
In the final scene of John's gospel, Jesus and Peter talked intimately. They clarify Peter's love, and Jesus challenges Peter to help believers. Jesus then predicts Peter's death. Peter, distracted by John's presence, changes the subject to ask Jesus about John's fate. Lovingly yet firmly, Jesus redirects Peter to personal commitment. Mention of John is irrelevant to concern for Peter's dedication. Directing Peter to individual responsibility, Jesus says, `You follow me'. Amidst the many distractions of twentieth century living, Jesus still calls us, individually, to personal commitment.
In the course of medical training, we are repeatedly subjected to evaluation by comparison with our peers. Board exams and other qualifying tests are passed not by achieving a particular level of knowledge but by doing better than a certain percentage of other test-takers. Legal systems, in America for instance, determine the appropriateness of medical care by comparison with the most commonly practised standards. Truly, comparative evaluation is a widespread means of judging human activity.
But is comparison enough? When Peter tried to compare himself with John, Jesus redirected Peter to look only on himself. God does not call us merely to perform as well as our peers. He asks us to perform as well as he did. `Be perfect' Jesus told his followers, `as your heavenly Father is perfect'. Not only does being `good' by comparative standards fall short of God's true calling for us, it also robs us of eternal reward. We should be going good as God directs, looking to God for strength, and accepting God's `well done'. We should do our `work heartily as serving the Lord and not men'.
Along the route of our spiritual pilgrimage, however, human comparison does serve one useful purpose. We can use godly individuals as role models and examples. Thus, as Paul followed Christ, he could encourage others to follow him. Human examples can spur us on in our quest for Christ-likeness.
Amidst a society full of comparisons and relativism, God calls us to perfection. Tempted to build our egos by comparing ourselves with others, he asks us to focus only on him. And when we feel tired as we follow him, he encourages us with his strength and abiding presence. As the writer of Hebrews challenged us, `Let us also lay aside every weight, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus'.
Help us Lord, to be mindful of your words:
`Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide,
and the way is easy, that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is
narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few' (Mt 7:13-14)!
Further reading: Jn 21:15-22. Mt 5:44-6:8. 1 Cor 10:32-11, 11:2.