In the New Testament a Rabbi would call a new disciple by saying, “Follow me,” it meant from that time forward their life would change drastically as they would be dead to their old life and alive to their new life. They would literally leave everything they knew and begin to follow their new teacher.
If you were called to follow a Rabbi, you would be taking their set of rules and their teaching upon you, with the idea that one day you would perpetuate their ideas to future generations. A Rabbi’s set of teachings in that day was called their “yoke.” This is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). The Rabbis of Jesus’ day put a heavy yoke loaded with burdens on men and did not help to lift them.
Around the age of 14 or 15 years old, the young men would finish their schooling and the Rabbis would go to these schools and question these young men. They would then choose the best of the best to be their disciples and would call them using the same phrase that Jesus used, “Follow me.” The Rabbi wanted to find out if you had what it takes to spread his yoke. The new disciple would then leave his hometown and everything he knew, and would follow him everywhere, giving his life to be exactly like his Rabbi. The student would follow the Rabbi and literally imitate him in every way, especially his teaching and mannerisms.
As one would leave and begin to follow, others would say to him, “May you be covered with the dust of your Rabbi.” The students followed him so closely that the dust from the road that came from the feet of the Rabbi would cover the disciple. That should be the desire of every disciple of Christ, to walk so close to him that we would be covered with his dust.
If a young man was rejected by the Rabbi, he would say to him, “Go home, have children, and pray that they may become a Rabbi. Go home and ply your trade (go home and learn the family business).”
Matthew 4:18-22 describes Jesus calling four of his disciples to follow him, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
(Why were these men fisherman, because they were not chosen to be a potential Rabbi; they were plying their trade.) And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
Jesus calling these young men was just the same as saying, “I believe you can be like me and I believe you have potential, you have what it takes. I believe God can use you.” This was one of the greatest privileges in their culture.
Imagine you were on the shore when this scene unfolds. Jesus walks by and calls James and John, the sons of Zebedee, they drop everything and immediately begin to follow Jesus. I would have thought that their father would have said, “… you kids now a days, running off, leaving me with all this work, where do you think you’re going.” Nothing like that was spoken. I imagine that Zebedee ran home and said something like this, “The boys aren’t with me mom, a Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, came along and called our boys, and he thinks that they have what it takes to be a Rabbi someday.” Maybe the next morning, he sees the usual men preparing for the day’s work that is ahead of them and he can’t wait to brag on his sons. I assure you that this became the talk of the town, Zebedee’s family stock soared that day, and this is what every father dreamed of for his son.
I often wondered why Peter would get out of a perfectly good boat in the middle of a storm. His Teacher was not in the boat and he wanted to be just like him, so he stepped out and walked on the water. Peter would rather be surrounded by the waves and be with Jesus than to be in a safe boat without him. Peter wanted to be covered with the dust of his Rabbi, to follow Him. What Jesus did, Peter wanted to do, where Jesus was, Peter wanted to be.
May you be covered with the dust of your Rabbi!
The writer is the pastor of Northtowne Church of God in Sidney.