Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballer, has 496 million followers on Instagram. That’s just shy of half a billion people, and 150 million more followers than there are people in the United States. By contrast, Taylor Swift, the American songwriter and singer, who’s just announced she’s coming to Melbourne next February, has a mere 231 million fans on Instagram. Rather poor pickings in comparison.

These are quite staggering numbers, aren’t they? One individual who is so popular that vast swaths of the world’s population find themselves attracted to their lives. They are also quite unrealistic numbers, that do not speak of any real engagement or connection between celebrity and fan.

For his part, Jesus probably met fewer people in his entire earthly lifetime than I’ve got Twitter followers, and certainly a lot fewer than any of us will meet in our lifetimes. Yet his engagement and connection with this small number of people was real, personal and often life-changing. Even more staggering, he or she who knew Jesus was made known by him to the Father, for the sake of their lives. It was not those who knew Jesus—his ‘fan base’—that matter; it was that Jesus knew them. As he said, ‘Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’

In faith, to meet Jesus is to become known to God, to be recognised and welcomed, to move from obscurity into his wonderful light. In meeting Jesus, it is our humble lives that are acknowledged and honoured, not so much the other way around. ‘If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for them in the presence of my Father in heaven.’

This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus: it is not to be an anonymous number among the millions of others, but to be personally known and individually loved by him. As St Paul put it, ‘If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. We are the recipients of this utterly gratuitous gift.’

In faith, it is not who we know that counts, but by whom we are known. Jesus knows you; he knows everything about you; and you, whom he knows so nearly and clearly, loves you. In knowing this, might we take as our own the prayer of St Richard of Chichester:

‘Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day.’

Main image: Katsushika Hokusai, Hibiscus and Sparrow, c. 1830.