What Am I Fit For?

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?


Missing What’s Important

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51 ESV)

The latter half of Luke 9 seems filled with Jesus’ disciples failing to pick up what their Master was laying down.  He says, “I’m going to be killed and rise on the third day.”  Peter rebukes Him (in other Gospels, Luke leaves that out).  He didn’t get it.  They argue over who’s the greatest.  Jesus brings out a child to show as an example of greatness.  So John says they hindered someone working miracles in Jesus’ name.  They didn’t get it.  Samaritans won’t provide hospitality to Jesus on His way to Jerusalem.  James and John offer to call down fire from heaven on them.  They don’t get it.

Continue reading “Missing What’s Important”

What Does Jesus Think?

But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”  (Luke 9:21-26 NASB)

Luke makes some modifications to his account here.  In Matthew and Mark, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying He will be killed by the religious leaders; then Jesus rebukes him right back.  Luke leaves that out.  Then Luke adds in the “daily” element to Jesus’ challenge to pick up a cross and follow Him.  In Matthew and Mark this is missing, the challenge is to follow Jesus literally to His crucifixion.  All three have the familiar saying that the one saving his life loses it, and the one giving up his life for Jesus saves it.

None of the Gospels have any of the disciples following Jesus into death.  They all, but John, are executed afterwards at some point (John was too tough, he survived his execution).  It’s possible that Luke adds the “daily” element because of this.  Buy why leave out Peter’s rebuke?  Luke doesn’t leave a memo about that.  But regardless of whether Peter’s and Jesus’ rebuke-fest is in there or not, the challenge to follow Jesus with a cross is real enough.

What constitutes a “cross” is a constant debate.  What is really clear though is Jesus’ negative, unbalanced comment about Jesus being ashamed of those ashamed of Him.  So if we’re ashamed of Jesus here, He’ll be ashamed of us in heaven.  Think about that.  That concerns me deeply.  Why don’t I tell everyone about Jesus all the time?  Am I ashamed?  Because if that’s why, then I don’t have to wonder about what Jesus thinks, it’s pretty clearly spelled out here.  I think it’s very interesting that we debate the “cross” we’re to carry, but few debate what it means to live ashamed of Jesus here.  I’m really hoping the Christian-themed tee-shirts I wear count toward being unashamed.  Otherwise I’m possibly in real trouble.

I believe that our preoccupation with what Jesus means by “cross” here and the absence of what it means to be unashamed here are symptoms of our self-focused culture.  One is about us (what is my cross to bear?), and the other is about Jesus (what does Jesus think?).  The view through my knothole is that Jesus considers the cross to be the same as being unashamed.  It’s the attitude absent of shame that brings the ire of the world down upon us.  They hate and try to kill us when we’re obviously for Jesus.  Jesus is counter to every culture, so in every culture, being unashamed of Jesus brings dangerous attention.  It’s one of the ways we know we’re on the right track (but not the only or best way).  But it’s always the most uncomfortable way, so clearly not the American way.

Today, I will seek to be uncomfortably obvious in my devotion to Jesus.  I hope I don’t get fired.  What’s your view through the knothole?

What Do People Think?

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” (Luke 9:18-22 NASB)

One of my personal struggles is what I think people think of what I do.  It’s really silly, I know it is, and I do it anyway.  It’s kind of like my difficulty separating movies from reality.  I know they’re not, but I get sucked in and, well, make silly decisions or assumptions.  But there is some value to knowing what people think.  One of the things knowing what people think helps me with is having a context for what I think.

So, when I look at the verses on Herod, just prior to this, the same list of options for who Jesus is appears.  He is John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the risen prophets of old.  This is the public context for PT who I discussed in my last entry.  Oh, PT are the initials for Penitent Thief.  We seem to know the names of his parents, his wife, and where he’s from, just not his name or the name of his brother (Impenitent Thief) who died with him. But they were brothers…I guess.  Sorry, a rant against Wikipedia – had to be done.

My point is that the public opinion of Jesus was that He was a guy, pretty terrific, possibly back from the dead, but still, just a guy.  When Peter confesses Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone.  The public opinion context remains.  The public opinion was left unchanged by Jesus’ prediction He would be mistreated and killed, only to rise on the third day.  The public opinion is the opinion of those who’ve heard, perhaps even seen, but never experienced.  Maybe they were among the five-thousand who ate.  Maybe they were in the crowd as Jesus went o Jairus’ house. But they never understood what they saw, heard, or ate.

So, what people think may be helpful to create a context in which I worship, study, pray, and listen for my Master.  The public opinion helps me realize that I am an alien in a foreign land.  It helps form a context for what I do as ministry.  It can be overwhelming, depleting, and hopeless to think about.  But if I step back and look a this context, it’s the deviations, the anomalies, and the oddities that stand out.  I don’t want to know why the people think what they do.  I want to know why the deviations think the way they do.  I want to know why someone left the public opinion behind and somehow knew Jesus was King.  I want to know why knew it was more important to follow Jesus all over Judea and Galilee rather than keep working nets or a tax booth.  Why did the thief on the cross know Jesus wasn’t done, on the cross?  They shine out of a dark backdrop of what the people think, and those are the ones I want to be like.

What’s your view through the knothole?

No Rest, No Problem, Seriously?

When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida.  But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:10-11 NASB)

Continue reading “No Rest, No Problem, Seriously?”

What’s Up With This Tetrarch?

Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again.  Herod said, “I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see Him.  (Luke 9:7-9 NASB)

Continue reading “What’s Up With This Tetrarch?”