To understand that calling and Jesus’ invitation, we need to understand the context. In Jesus’ day, childhood education started at age five as young boys went to the synagogue school to learn Hebrew and memorize the Torah. By the time of his bar mitzvah at age 13, a typical Jewish young man had memorized all of the Old Testament. Those who showed great promise were encouraged to continue their education and begin studying the authoritative interpretation of the Torah known as "The Yoke of Torah." After that next multi-year phase, the young men who continued to show great promise were further encouraged to extend their training by spending time (typically ages 17-20) with a rabbi in a multi-year experience. There they would hone their ability to interpret God’s Word as it relates to all the practical issues of daily life.
The student would choose a rabbi and ask to become his student. Because of the great interpretive diversity amongst the rabbis, the decision to ask to be a rabbi’s disciple and receive religious training from him was not made lightly. Some rabbis interpreted the Scriptures literally. Others focused on the spirit of the Torah, while still other rabbis emphasized different areas of emphasis, e.g. ritual purity laws. These diverse approaches often led to very different interpretations and application of Scripture pertaining to issues of daily life. Since a rabbi’s interpretation of God’s Word was forever binding on his disciples, great care had to be taken by the disciple in choosing a rabbi and his teaching to make sure it was something he could identify with and live out for the rest of his life.
A 1st Century rabbi would only choose a very select few, highly promising young men from all the wannabes who asked to be his disciples. He selected only those who he thought could fully measure up to his standard and eventually become just like him. What the rabbi was looking for was not just a detailed knowledge of the Scriptures, but the ability of this candidate to interpret the Scriptures and apply them to real life. Remember, the issue for an observant Jew in the First Century was never what God’s Word says. They all knew what it said. They had memorized it. The issue was: can they interpret the Scripture just like him. So when a Rabbi gave his invitation of "follow me," he was saying: "Come and be with me as my disciple and submit your life to my authoritative teaching." Hearing those words meant you had made the last "cut." These words were deeply significant to hear. This was everything a young man had trained and studied for since age 5. Now their dreams and all of their hard work could be realized.
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