by Reid Matthias

‘After this, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness’ (Mark 1:12).

This verse strikes my funny bone. Reading it in a 21st century context (and out of biblical context), it sounds like the Spirit and Jesus pile into the ute for a drive into the bush where the Spirit kicks the door open and says, ‘Alright, have a good time camping!’

No, Jesus is not driven by car into the dusty outback of Israel, but he is motivated by the Spirit to walk into the wild where he will encounter temptations, struggle and critters. As I read about Jesus’ time in the wilderness, I wonder if there aren’t some similarities between God’s invitation to his Son to ‘Walk My Way’ and what I encountered in 2021.

As we drove through what could easily be considered something of a dusty wilderness, vast stretches of summer dryness now in different shades of yellow, ochre and brown, I was amazed at the landscape through which we’d walk. I tried to imagine the early pioneers who had to walk down the hill to the eastern parts of Adelaide from Hahndorf and back up again or the refugees who fled for their lives on foot in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t know if I could have survived very long doing any of those walks.

Imagine, though, if you could have been on the trail with the pioneers or the refugees. Imagine the stories you would hear if you only begged the questions: ‘Tell me your story. Tell me about your life. Help me to make the connection.’

These musings were what Jesus was very, very good at. As he wandered the dusty trails of Palestine, people followed him – throngs of people, multitudes. Pressing up to him, many wanted to touch him, to hear him, to see him. As they walked his way, they all desired a sign or wonder, yet time and time again, Jesus does not give them a miracle, but a question.

For it is in the questions that we find the miracle of walking together. This is where we find that Jesus has an interest in us.

In Luke 10, after Jesus sends 72 people to go walkabout two-by-two, he encounters a teacher of the law who wants to know how to put the cherry on top of life: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Certainly, as their paths had intersected, Jesus could have simply told the man, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life’, brushed his hands and said, ‘Alright, have a good time’. But what does Jesus do? He comes alongside the lawyer and asks two questions. ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’

What do these questions do? Two things.

  1. Jesus establishes that he values the expert in the law enough to ask questions. ‘How do you read it?’ is a perfect way of asking, ‘So, tell me a little bit about your experience. Tell me about your own learning journey.’
  2. All of life is a dialogue. If we are open enough to ask the question, why not dig deeper?

What captures me most about this short incident is that Jesus paused in his own walk to interact with someone who could easily have irked him. But he doesn’t keep to himself, checking his pedometer, making sure he’s getting his steps in and his calories counted. No, he invites people onto the road with him. Even people who are different from him.

To me, this is the difference between walking with and coming alongside someone else.

Walking with someone else means that you are travelling in the same general direction, but might not have the same goal. Walking with someone means that you might smile politely, nod and put your headphones back in your ears. Walking with someone might mean that you walk a little faster so that you can finish before they do. Walking with someone doesn’t necessarily imply connection, only sharing space.

But walking alongside? Well, that’s a Jesus-kind-of-walk-my-way. It’s a choice. You opt to speed up or slow down so that you can match the other walker’s pace and go in the same direction. Walking alongside necessitates a kindred goal and spirit. Walking alongside is about greeting and creating relationships, asking questions of history and future.

Walking alongside is about the journey, whereas walking with is about the destination.

As the hordes of walkers gathered together for Walk My Way in the Barossa Valley, I was interested in how people separated themselves. Talking with people before, during and afterwards, I noticed those from congregations or friendships tended to walk with each other. Theirs was friendly banter, maybe an occasional jog. It’s natural. The day was designed for the relational journey and connecting with people who have the same goal.

But then on the way back, being driven through the wilderness by bus, back to the very beginning, I met a couple who were come-alongsiders. After having spent years living abroad, they told me the story of different cultures, different struggles, of being a stranger in strange lands, and they asked the same questions of me. For the journey, we found similarities and differences, common bonds of Christian understanding.

Which brought me back to opining about pioneers, refugees and Jesus himself: how are we called to come alongside people? In what ways do we slow our pace to match step with others along the road?

After Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to this expert in the law, he asked, ‘Which one of these three do you think was a neighbour?’

The expert replied, ‘The one who had mercy’.

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise’.

Maybe what I learned most about the Walk My Way experience of 2021 was that it didn’t finish on 1 May. Walking Jesus’ way is a daily walk alongside him and other people so that they can experience his grace and love on their own journey.

Go and do likewise.

Pastor Reid Matthias serves the flock at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Para Vista in suburban Adelaide. He completed Walk My Way Barossa Valley with his wife Christine, daughters Josephine and Greta and family friend Madison Watts.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login and read this article.
Not a subscriber? Click here to receive stories & upcoming issues in full