Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62 NASB)
There are times Jesus seems really harsh. There are others where He seems kind and gentle, but those also serve to throw into sharp relief the times He’s not. In the wrap up this chapter, Jesus interacts with three people. Two offer to follow Him, and one He calls. None seem “fit” for the Kingdom. The last one is especially interesting.
While one offers and Jesus says He has no “home”, and while another is called but wants to go bury his father (why isn’t he at the funeral now?), the last one offers, but with the caveat that he wants to say good-bye to his family. Here’s my problem: the last one is the only one who seems to want to follow now, and to the death.
The first one isn’t ready to be uncomfortable, as evidenced by Jesus’ reply. The second, wants to wait until he has no other obligations. I’m assuming dear old dad isn’t yet dead, so he has family obligations he needs to wait to complete (i.e. dear old dad to die). Even in the second one, Jesus tells him not to wait, but go and preach; which is positive really, Jesus wants him to be of service even with his response.
But the final one seems to have heard and taken to heart the first two. He has the right answer: cut all ties, and follow to the end. Yet he has to finish well, so he is to say good bye to all and follow. But Jesus isn’t buying it. For him He reserves the harshest reply. But the picture is of a man plowing yet looking behind. This makes for crooked plowing. No one does that. Everyone knows not to. So, how does this man wanting to cut ties to his household look back while plowing?
Jesus doesn’t say he is doing this. He says that anyone doing it isn’t fit for the Kingdom. He leaves it up to the man to decide if he wants to proceed knowing that particular cost. In fact, Jesus does this with all three, really. The first, it’s a challenge to live without a home. The second, it’s a challenge to leave family to family and move on within the Kingdom of God. The third, it’s a challenge to truly leave it all behind, not just say you’re leaving it all behind. It’s a challenge to determine just how important the things he leaves really are to him.
It may sound like this one is the least harsh, but remember that the first has no qualifier for participation in the Kingdom of God. The second seems “acceptable” even with his request to wait to answer Jesus’ call. It’s only the third one where Jesus leaves it open that the man may not be fit for the Kingdom at all. It is harsh. It’s supposed to be. It’s harsh to read, so I can only imagine what it felt like to hear. Yes, it was a challenge, not a condemnation, but the challenge also held the possibility that he may not be fit at all. Wasn’t that potential in the other two?
The answer is that the potential is there in all of us. It was in the other two, but Jesus made it explicit with the third man. Perhaps it was arbitrary, but that would be a first for Jesus. Perhaps it was a final challenge to everyone in the crowd wondering and wanting to do the same as these three. Perhaps Jesus saw something different in this third man than in the others. Maybe everyone thought the Kingdom would be easy, or easier. I doubt that.
I think the challenge to be fit for the Kingdom of God remains for me today. I need to look at what I’m doing, plowing. I need to pay attention to that, not what I’ve done, not how the rows I’ve completed look like, not what the sowers behind me are doing, not what the others working in the field might be up to. The task at hand for the Kingdom requires focus. But it’s tedious. It’s boring. How long must I stare a the butt of an ox? It’s hard, the plow wants to rise and not dig, the oxen drift, and they smell bad, and I think one just dumped “fertilizer” right in front of me. I want to throw seed now, and let someone else walk behind these beasts. Such an “employee” gets fired, and so such an servant would not be fit for the Kingdom. There are others who are satisfied with a well-done job, a well plowed field, straight rows, deep furrows, and the muscle-strain of guiding and directing powerful beasts. Which am I? Which will I be?
What’s your view through the knothole?