Words change their meaning over time.
Take the word 'follow'. It's a common enough word, but what does it mean?
If I want to follow that man as he disappears over the ridge of the sand dune, I would be wise to follow in his footsteps. Although only if I trust him and believe he knows the best way to go.
This particular uphill climb looks as if it could be hard-going. It's easy to see the first few steps but I'm not sure my feet or stride can match them.
And where will the way lead over the horizon? I don't even know where this man is going. What lurks ahead? Will the way get harder? Is there danger ahead? Will the effort of following be worth it? Will there be water? Will there be shade? Will there be rest?
If I'm a pilot driving an aircraft to the terminal of a large international airport then I must follow whatever marshalling instructions are in place.
The way may be led by a small vehicle with a big 'follow me' sign.
Following it as precisely as possible is essential for safety and could be a life or death matter.
To choose my own way would get me into big trouble. Here the words 'follow me' must be treated as a command to obey, not an invitation to ignore, accept or reject.
Anyone who uses social media is accustomed to a very different use of the word 'follow'.
What does 'follow' mean in social media terms?
I 'follow' people on Twitter, some of whom I know but many I don't. Some hold views with which I agree, others hold very different views.
It cost me nothing at all to follow any of them. One click on the 'follow' icon linked to someone's profile and their 'tweets' will appear in my Twitter feed. I may or may not see what they post, depending on how often I choose to dip into Twitter. I don't have to react to those I follow. I might share someone's tweet by re-tweeting if I think something is worth reading. I might reply - or not. Occasionally what someone has tweeted may actually cause me to think or act differently, even come as God's word for me today.
I might just do a rapid scroll down and then forget or ignore everything I've read. In such a context, 'follow' can mean no more than 'I take a casual interest' in what this person has to say. And I can 'unfollow' any time I want with one click.
Reflecting on John 12: 20 - 36, I ask myself today what my following of Jesus means.
Which of the images I've posted today best reflect that. Is it the footsteps that are too big for me, where I can't see what comes next but try to follow because I love and trust the person making them? Is it the instruction on the airport vehicle that duty commands I obey? Is it the casual Twitter, take it or leave it invitation to click, engage or ignore, depending on how I happen to feel today? Or is it an inconsistent mixture of all those things?
Jesus was speaking of his imminent death when, in response to the news that some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, he told his friends Andrew and Philip,
"Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be." John 12: 26
That puts a whole new meaning on 'follow me' - not what his disciples expected when they left everything to follow Jesus.
Image Credits: Sand dune footsteps Vu Bul on Flickr, CC License
Aiport 'Follow Me' car Wikimedia Commons
'Follow me' icon Chamal13 on Flickr, CC License
crosses on hill, Pixabay, CCO public domain