It is said when Xenophon first met Socrates it was a narrow lane. Socrates held out his walking stick, and barred Xenophon's path so he could not pass. Socrates spoke first and asked him if he, Xenophon knew where he could buy this item or that item. Xenophon answered all of the questions, the best he knew how. Then Socrates asked him if he knew where this product or that product was made. Again Xenophon gave him some answers. Then Socrates asked him, "Do you know where men are made good and virtuous?" "No", said the young Xenophon. "Then" said Socrates, "follow me and learn!"
It has been said Greek Philosophy is a propaideia to Greek Orthodox Christianity. If it is so, and it does seem to be so, then the aforementioned narrative was a precursor to the reading taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In it Jesus called on four fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John to "follow him."
Once there came to Socrates a very ordinary man called Aeschines. apparently he truly wanted to be a follower of Socrates, but being rather common in background and education, he felt he had nothing to offer. "I am a poor man named Aechine, "he said. "I have nothing else, but I give you myself." Socrates, probably taken aback at the man's honesty, said, "Do you not see you are giving me the most precious thing of all? Yourself."
Indeed, what those first followers of Jesus Christ offered to Him, was themselves. For certain, they were not men of letters or scholarship. They had no great influence either political or wealth. They were hard working, simple fishermen, with no accumulated wealth. They had not great social standing. With no great background and certainly no great future, all they had to offer our Lord was themselves.
Our Lord has need of "ordinary" people who are willing to give themselves and of themselves to the mission He has to accomplish. Our Lord can take such individuals and do anything, transform them, and make them preachers and examples of His. And indeed, this is how God has worked throughout the Aeons. He has called upon ordinary people to carry His message, to do His work, to proclaim His Kingdom. You recall He called Moses from minding sheep and made him a religious leader of the people of Israel taking them out of Egypt to the promised land. Seeking yet further, God found Amos tending herds in Tekoa and called him to further the social justice agenda God wanted proclaimed. Jesus called ordinary fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James, John from their fishing boats and their nets to go forth and proclaim the message of salvation. He called Anthony from his wealth and made him the father of desert monasticism. He called Photos from his lay position and made him the patriarch of missions. He called Sosanna from her widowhood to care for orphans, homeless and strangers. He called Nectarios from his studies and made him a teacher and miracle worker. He called Seraphim from his home and had him teach theosis.
From all walks of life, from factories, and hospitals, from offices and executive positions, from armed forces they come, at the bidding of the Lord, these ordinary people to preach and to teach, to proclaim and to guide. God calls ordinary people, yes from the ranks of mediocrity and from the gutters of sin He calls them, and changes them and makes them His messengers.
Some of those He calls to go on and become pastors and preachers from pulpits while others go into prison and hospitals to minister. Some of those He calls choose to proclaim his message by example in the work force while others practice in their homes. And all of these "ordinary" people "follow" not because they don't know any other way, not because there are not other roads to follow. These ordinary people follow because they know Jesus is the truth, the way and the life. These ordinary people follow because they were sought out by God as He was searching for them and thus they cannot deny the summons.
These ordinary people follow the Lord because they are skeptical of human nature, skeptical of democracy, skeptical of everything, and yet will believe in an old, old story of how God came to His people bringing them enlightenment and salvation.
Ordinary people follow, not because they are better than others, not because they read the Bible or have studied in Sunday Church School. They are primarily obeying a whispering in the ear of Him Who calls them to salvation. And they respond. They are conscious of being called and their inward search for something more. They are responding to an inward urge that cannot be resisted, an urge that grows into a conviction that only by obeying can they find joy, satisfaction and salvation of a life lived according to God.
There are many voices calling. There is a constant ringing in the ears with come hither temptations. There are external calls which invite us temptingly: but the heart and soul of the ordinary person called by God, brings about a transformation of heart and soul. So the ordinary person does a one-eighty; they turn around; they repent, and believe and are saved.
This calling of God is an awesome power of God acting without help or hindrance upon ordinary persons and produces a new creature, and leads them to a life of sanctity and holiness, to the work God has for them; to theosis. For sure, God calls all to salvation. And it is a call that brooks no refusal. It is a call that cannot be ignored. It is a call that brings us to the Cross of Christ, to kneel adoringly, to wonder at the awesomeness of the mystery of salvation God has provided for us.
Following the Lord is a paradox. We recall the words of the crowd which had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus: "He saved others: himself he cannot save!" Sure they were wrong. We know it. Why? Because we have followed. But then again they were right. Could He not have saved Himself? He could have compromised. He could have talked things over. He might have made His Kingdom political instead of spiritual. He might have chosen to be expedient rather than the right. But He did not. And that is where the ordinary followers of Christ stand. They can save themselves from the trials and tribulations of this world: but they don't. For they stand with the mandate of Christ, Who, had He saved Himself (for he had the power to do it), would not have been able then to save another. He would not have been our Savior. And that is the paradox of salvation. "He who will save His life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake, will save it," are the words of our Lord.
Ordinary people stand and lose their life in Christ, as our Lord did. Could he not have sat like the Greek Philosopher before Him, in the shade of some garden, where the intelligence and the culture of the world might have sought and found the wisdom that would save it? He could have been only a teacher, or a dreamer, bemused and bedazzled by the brilliance of his dream. He might have done these things. But He had deeper work to do. He came not only to reach, but to redeem. Ordinary people recognize this in Jesus and they know He Who said: "I am come to seek and to save that which was lost," is He Who makes our own burden light. He is the only One Who meets the need, for He had no sin of His own. And because He loved us. Ordinary people know He loved us, because He loves you and me. Ordinary people know He takes from our hearts all disappointments, all heartaches, all wounds and sorrows. And this is the paradox of salvation: this is the mystery of Christ on His Cross.
What can you do for a Savior like that? What can you say in the face of such love and action? How do we respond to the words: "This cup is the new covenant of my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin"? The ordinary person knows. For he knows his Savior. He knows self-denial. He knows sacrifice. He knows his faith is an unworldly faith. The world first feasts then has its fast. The Church and her ordinary followers of Christ, fast and then they feast. First the Cross, then the Crown. First the sorrow then the joy. The lowly shall be exalted, the ordinary made extra-ordinary, the losers conquerors, the mourners comforted. Through Him we are more than ordinary. Yes, we follow Him. And that makes us peculiar and special people. People of His Kingdom. Yes. People of His kingdom.
Rev. Fr. John G. Maheras/Nativity Church/Cohasset, Massachusetts