“Follow Me”: Footprints in the Snow – Brad Jersak

Matthew 4:18-22 —

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

“Follow Me”

When Jesus called the core of his band of disciples, those words, “Come, follow me,” he established the beginning of a movement—he forged a way, a path, a trail for them to follow.

For Jesus’ disciples, leaving everything behind, including their families and work, meant literally following Jesus into his Galilean ministry campaign, where he would preach his gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent and believe the good news,” and he would heal every kind of disease and disability.

Those of us who hear Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me,” at a great distance—across the globe, two millennia later—need a road map for where the trail goes and how it gets us there. For Jesus, the path ultimately led upward—an ascent onto the Cross, out of the tomb, and to the right hand of his Father. When we hear Jesus’ call, “Take up your cross and follow me,” we’re assured of the same destination. And Jesus provides the path or way of ascent in the following chapters (5-7), his Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. Simply put, we only get there by following him because his footsteps mark the trail of trust on his path of grace. So we follow him step-by-step.

“Footprints in the Snow”

I needn’t over-explain the popular poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” but you’ll recall that in that context, ONE set of footprints seemed like God had abandoned the poet, when in fact, those were the times when God was carrying her.

On my first Father’s Day after my dad’s recent “graduation” to the “great cloud of witnesses,” I was meditating on Jesus’ call, “Follow me,” and it invoked a vivid memory. Our family lived by Killarney Lake in Manitoba, Canada. In the winter, the lake iced over, and subsequent snowfalls would lay down layers of snow—some fluffy, some heavy and wet, some granular and crunchy. Some years there was hardly any snow, and we could skate across the lake. In other years, the snow used to be two or three feet deep.

I remember, as a child still less than ten years old, Dad led me out onto the lake. “Follow me. Stay exactly in my footsteps.” Dad’s weight (180 pounds) would pack down the snow so that if I walked exactly where he walked, I wouldn’t sink at all (I weighed under 100 pounds). It was easy, and my feet stayed warm and dry. I was walking on water! All it required was trusting the trail he had set.

But sometimes, I stepped out of his snow-prints and left the trail. We called what happened next “post-holing,” where my foot immediately penetrated the snow, and I would sink all the way to my crotch. Snow would fill my boots, and when I tried to step up, my boots would fill with snow and sometimes come right off. I might find my socked foot in icy cold water in the bottom strata between the snow and ice. I couldn’t get up myself without post-holing the other leg. It was strange to see Dad, twice my weight standing on the snow while I sank away like Peter on Galilee. But he would always pull me out, retrieve my boots, ring out my socks, and say “Follow my footprints” back to the house.

So, unlike the “Footprints in the Sand” poem, my experience was that two footprints meant I left the path to my own discomfort and peril. But one set of footprints indicated that (1) Dad had created a path I couldn’t create, then (2) as I followed his tracks, our walk was more delight than disaster. I experience grace as (1) the trail he made for me, and (2) his strong hands pulling me up when I wandered and got stuck. That seems like a good and true parable to me.

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