Don’t you just love commas?
The little periods with tails give great meter and rhythm to writing. They can do the same for speaking — acting as a breath, the pause or that pivot from one audience member to another.
Because I’m chummy with the comma and his colleagues in the industry, I often pay extra attention to punctuation during personal scripture study. While I try not to read too much into every period, semicolon or exclamation point, I do appreciate how often a perfectly placed piece of punctuation helps me liken the scriptures unto myself.
A few weeks ago, I highlighted a comma that I’ve read many times but never really seen. No doubt you’ve read it, too.
In Luke 18, the Savior says: “Come, follow me.”
(While it’s impossible to know when the comma was added — ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts used little or no punctuation — we know the comma was there in the first authorized King James edition in 1611.)
This sacred invitation is also the title of one of the most beloved hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Last year, the phrase also became the title of the new youth curriculum and now appears across the church’s website and on many printed materials.
I’ve read the words. I’ve said the words. I’ve sung the hymn. So how have I missed that gorgeous comma?
Try this: Say the phrase aloud and take a breath, as we should, after the comma.
It’s not one invitation, is it? It’s two.
The first is simply “to come.” In gospel context, that might mean to get out of bed, come to church, come to Sunday school, come to your leadership meetings, come to seminary, come on a mission, come to conference, come home teaching or visiting teaching, etc.
It's an important first step in following the Savior’s example. But it’s not enough.
As a teen, I was pretty good at the first half of “come, follow me.”
I was usually where I needed to be: in class, at family home evening, sacrament meeting, etc. But I wish I’d seen the comma all those years ago, because the Savior didn't say we should simply “come,” he said once we’re there, we should “follow (him).”
For that young Jason, what could that have looked like?
It would’ve been much more than just coming to church. It would have meant following the sacramental ordinance by being focused and more reverent. It might have been demonstrated by always being on time for seminary, awake, prepared and active in the discussions.
It would have meant much more than just checking a box for home teaching by arriving in their living room. Following him would mean truly loving and serving the families that I've been asked, as Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve puts it in his book "Increase in Learning," “to watch over, be with and strengthen.”
Depending on where we are in our own spiritual progression, perhaps just coming to church or the youths' activity, or being dragged to the priesthood session of conference, is all we can do today. Life's many stresses and pressures make it difficult enough to get there; the following is even harder. It’s God’s wisdom that we each progress at our own pace in our own time.
But as we grow in the gospel, line upon line and precept upon precept, we might recognize that while showing up is an important first step, truly becoming like him is so much more.
We also might remember that the real power isn’t just in the words; it’s in the message. Why does he invite us to follow him? Because he knows we’re capable of it. He has faith in us! He believes in us!
Try it again: Say that phrase, three of the most beautiful words Jesus Christ spoke during his mortal ministry.
“Come, follow me.”
And remember that when we’re ready to engage not just in the church but also in his gospel, there’s so much more to this invitation.
Remember the comma.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." Learn more at jasonfwright.com, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/jfwbooks or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.