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Gospel according to Luke 9: 57-62 (NIV)
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was no longer in Galilee. He had “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 51). How did he engage with these people along the road? Had he recently addressed a crowd? Were these “chance” encounters? The dialogue reveals the high expectations he held for any who would follow him. He intended that they should know this right from the start.
Perhaps Jesus anticipated that he would not return to Galilee before his death. Having a “home” in Nazareth was in the past. Before him was uncertainty about the route he would tread, the places he would sleep and how his and his disciples’ needs would be met.
Luke does not reveal whether the first man eventually decided to follow Jesus. Jesus’ warning informs us that, if he did, it would not necessarily have been an easy vocation.
Whereas the first man volunteered his intention to follow Jesus, the second was invited to follow him. That man may have held noble intentions but he recognised a higher or more urgent priority than devoting all of his future to Jesus.
The third man offered to follow – but with a condition: other commitments still had precedence over becoming one of Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus set high standards for would-be disciples: no one who has lingering regrets about making a decision to follow him would be fit for the kingdom of God.
This message is as pertinent today as it was then. The one who ploughed with oxen needed to ensure the animals headed in the right direction and that the furrows were straight. One might glance over the shoulder to check the line of the furrows but one could not afford a lingering gaze in any direction other than where the plough was to turn the soil.
Where are you in your Christian walk? Are there distractions, competing commitments, that are more pressing than following Jesus? Are there demands from occupation, family or friends, leisure pursuits or the achievement of earthly ambition that “interfere” with becoming more like him? Is there a lingering regret because the life of the Christian is not compatible with what you think you would rather be doing? Is the task of supporting your Christian church or fellowship group requiring so much effort and energy that Jesus gets only left over scraps of time? In the context of this passage, what is Jesus now saying to you?