As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This passage of scripture is very poignant for those of us that call ourselves Christians. It deals with our commitment to being disciples of Jesus, and in this passage, Jesus himself draws a bold line in the sand to show the difference between those who want to follow him and those who do follow him.
The three scenarios are very distinct and cover a broad range of challenges a Christian will face when following Jesus. Rich meaning abounds here so let’s take a quick look at each one.
First, Jesus addresses the first person who makes the bold claim to ‘…follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus uses the example of foxes and birds both having a home. Jesus used this example to address the need we all have for security. Jesus wanted this person to know if he chose to follow Jesus, he may well not have the security of his home. Think about that from your perspective. This past Sunday we had some strong prophetic words spoken at TCC. Some of them were specifically directed to one individual and were related to a calling to international missions. Missionaries realize they are saying goodbye to the security of a home, a regular job, a paycheck they can budget on, etc. It is a huge step of faith. Jesus was telling this person that if he claims he will follow Jesus anywhere, he had to be ready to leave behind that security blanket of a home? How about you and me? A tough call and admittedly we are not all called to cross-cultural missions, but we should not lose the point.
The second person Jesus addresses initially by making the statement, “Follow me.” In this example, the person claims he will indeed follow him, but he needed to bury his father first. Some of us struggle with this passage because it seems to be a very reasonable request. After all, it is a child’s responsibility to honor their parents by presiding over their funeral. Jesus uses this extreme example to emphasize the importance of following him. It doesn’t mean you need to skip your dad’s funeral to attend church! It just means there are times when you will have to sacrifice greatly, even to the point of making hard decisions between family and your obedience to Jesus. It is another tough call for a follower of Jesus.
He directs his final example to the disciple’s relationship to his family using the metaphor of plowing for particular emphasis. During Jesus’ day, farmers used a plowshare and held reins to guide and direct the ox pulling the plow across the field. The soil in Palestine was very rocky, and often the plow would be knocked off course when it struck a rock. The man plowing needed to react quickly to bring the plow back on course to keep the row as straight as possible. It required a lot of attention and focus. If he turned his head to look behind, he would very quickly get off course. Jesus is once again telling us it is easy to lose our focus when we look behind at what we have left behind. These examples about the priority our family takes are difficult for us to read. That’s because we are taught family is so important and also due to abuses we have seen in the church. I get that. Don’t let that cloud what Jesus is saying. He isn’t telling us to accept every ministry or service opportunity we are presented with and make ourselves a slave to the local church. What he is saying is that we need to have an eternal perspective and understand the importance of this calling to follow him and be a genuine disciple.
One final thought which may sting. If it stings you, rest assured, it has already stung me! We in America are spoiled when it comes to following Jesus. Most of us work our regular jobs, get our paychecks, pay our bills, take our vacations and eat at our favorite restaurants. We attend church on Sunday, serve in various ministries and overall experience a life lulled into complacency regarding what it means to follow Jesus. However, around this world, there are Christians that do not experience this same carefree life as a disciple of Jesus. Their life is one of persecution, alienation from family, and even the fear of death for their beliefs. I and many others believe there is evidence that in the near future, Americans who hold fast to the teaching of Jesus Christ may begin to experience similar challenges. Our country continues to change rapidly, and it may not be long until even the culture of primarily religious cities like Knoxville will move further and further away from the truth of God. It is a good time to read through Luke 9 and count the costs of following Jesus. I encourage us all to ask God to give us that strength of conviction for the times when it won’t be so easy to follow Jesus.