This coming Sunday we will be reading Luke 9:51-62 at worship. Now, I don’t give the primary teaching this week as it is our family worship service – but there are countless jokes about preachers and open mics for a reason. When Scripture is read, preachers gotta preach. So because that opportunity won’t be there for me this week (unless you travel out to St. John’s, Pennant, for the 8:30 am service), I’m offering a few reflections on the Gospel passage for this Sunday.
So there’s this third person that Jesus meets on the road to Jerusalem. Remember the first two, one who had offered to follow Him unconditionally (though apparently with some expectation of reward) and another who had been given the chance of a lifetime (but had put it off, in favour of choosing the right time to follow on his own – ie. on his own terms). This third person presents a completely different set of circumstances. There is a provisional commitment to following Jesus offered. Jesus doesn’t solicit it, like He did with the second; it isn’t unconditional, like the first, and may not carry the same expectation of reward, either.
At first, we might pour disdain on this traveller for venturing to make any statement of intention to follow Jesus at all. Why wouldn’t you go home and say goodbye to your family first, then come and follow Jesus unconditionally – if that’s really what you plan to do? Why would you let it out, before its time – before you’re ready to carry it through? My imagination pictures the person who makes this statement of intention to commit as a person who didn’t know Jesus was coming along the road that way, and quite by surprise met Him on the road. This person knows something of his reputation, and knows what kind of commitment they should make and do want to make. But the people back home didn’t know that this person would be meeting Jesus that day – best not to leave them worrying about what’s happened. This person will just run home and say farewell, first.
Perhaps you can think of something similar happening to you. You’re out and run into someone quite unexpectedly, and you don’t have your day planner (or phone with calendar on it) readily available, so you hastily agree to have coffee soon. But you didn’t write it down, you didn’t put it in your calendar, and it gets lost in the shuffle. Or maybe you’re driving home and think of something that you’ve forgotten to do, and you think, “But I don’t have time for it just now – I’ll get it later.” And later comes, and you’ve forgotten to do it again.
In the moment, we have all made commitments (to ourselves or to others) that were hasty. We’ve all made promises that weren’t kept – not for lack of intention, or for ill-intent – but simply because they were made when we were half-cocked, not fully considering the time (perhaps we already had something scheduled), or the time involved, or the requisite skill-set, or the distance involved, or any number of other little considerations that just slipped the mind in the moment. So we shouldn’t be too hasty to judge this person who meets Jesus on the road, who is honest about their reservations. He’s someone who says, “I’ll follow you, Jesus!” and then, realizing something he’d forgotten (and how could he forget his family!), “Oh, but first let me go say goodbye…”
In the terms Jesus is using, a person who’s looking over his shoulder while plowing won’t be plowing a straight row. There may be ways that technology can help people avoid this pitfall, these days. In Jesus’ time, there weren’t. Nobody, He says, who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. He’s talking about a resolution, in people’s commitment. Remember Lot’s wife who put her hand to the plow – the task before her was clear, to make her way to the city in the plain and not to watch the destruction of her old home. She looked back.
So what about each of us? How close do we hold to the things of this world? How closely do we hold the ways of this world (ie. personal gain/profit, gossip, malice, envy, pride, self, etc.)? These things stand between us and the fullness of Christ’s stature – yet how often do we still look to them? Chesterton is often quoted: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” The difficulty in being a Christian is that we must un-learn what we have learned, and hold very loosely to the things and the ways that the world has taught us to put so much stock in.
What are you holding onto, for life, today?