There’s an old Jewish saw that says, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” It’s a poignant axiom that captures the essence of first century Judaism. Many Rabbis would gather disciples to themselves. The idea behind each small school of learners was that the Rabbi would pour out all his knowledge, wisdom, and expertise into these eager students.
It’s a great visual. The disciples would follow the Rabbi wherever he (there were no female Rabbis then) would go. They would travel up and down the dusty, dirt roads of Israel, and the disciples would stay as close to their Rabbi as they could. One never knew when the teacher would disperse another pearl of wisdom.
Thus, the saying had solid roots. If you stuck close enough to your master, you were going to have dust on your clothes that he kicked up along the way. If you were covered in his dust, you were close enough to glean everything you needed to become a prize pupil. It was a great honor as well as a wonderful achievement.
Most Jewish children never made the cut. The requirements were stringent. Just to be chosen, they had to memorize the Hebrew Scriptures as well as demonstrate a keen knowledge and ability to handle the disciplines of learning through the question and answer method. If they made the grade, they too would eventually become Rabbis.
It was a proud moment for Jewish parents when their child was chosen to be a follower of one of the Rabbis. They could wear it like a badge of honor—kind of like the bumper stickers we see today that read, “My child is an honor student at American High School.”
The interesting thing about all that is the unusual criteria Jesus used. He didn’t recruit the “best of the best.” His students were fishermen, tax collectors, and other run-of-the-mill dudes. They were everyday workingmen. They hadn’t made the grade in Hebrew school. Still, he chose them and uttered the simple words, “Come, follow me.” It’s no wonder they dropped what they were doing to follow Rabbi Jesus. It was a great privilege and a wondrously proud moment for each of them.
This whole scenario portends well for each of us. To hear and answer the call to be a disciple of the Christ is not predicated on how smart we are or what our earthly accomplishments have been. In fact, we can’t pile up enough accolades or prizes to merit such a calling. It is a free gift bestowed upon us by a loving and sovereign God. We don’t deserve it, but we can respond with zeal and excitement.
If you have heard that call (in whatever manner he has chosen to offer it to you), I urge you to follow him as closely as you are able. Some folks like the idea of following but would rather do so from a distance. Get close and get dirty. It’s the only way to travel.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]