Never Look Back


I’m not sure there is any way to soften the shocking impact of Jesus’ challenge to his would-be followers in today’s Gospel! He was such a charismatic figure that, I suppose, he often heard rash promises like the one with which our passage begins: “I will follow you wherever you go,” (Luke 9:57) gushes perhaps a young person, filled with zeal and excitement!

“Be careful what you say,” Jesus seems to caution, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but I have no where to lay my head!” And “neither will you” seems to be the implication.  That seems like a pastoral approach to this would-be disciple. No sense taking advantage of his zeal without first making clear the consequences!

But then Jesus actually extends an invitation to the next person! “Follow me,” he says. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Seems like a reasonable request. To which Jesus makes a harsh reply, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God!”

And a similar scenario follows as another seeker says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” “No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Tough stuff.

N.T. scholar Tom Wright puts it this way: “…the summons was shocking: Jesus’ call overrode normal family obligations of the kind usually regarded as sacrosanct. ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead’; only someone conscious of an all-important task could have issued such a summons, and only someone who believed him could have obeyed it.”

“This definite call offered nothing except a wandering life: foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.  But the promised long-term reward, as one might expect from a leadership prophet, let alone one who was more than a prophet, was that one would share in the blessings of the great coming new age, the age of redemption.” (N.T. Wright, “Jesus and the Victory of God”, page 299)

I don’t know about you, but that kind of commitment, that kind of total self-offering makes my discipleship look pretty tepid. I guess I’ve made a few sacrifices in my life to follow Jesus. But they do not compare in the slightest to the sacrifices made by those original 12…or by the early Church saints…or by the martyrs down through the centuries…or by women seeking to find their place in the leadership of the Church…or by gay and lesbian Christians wondering how long “full inclusion” really will take…or by African bishops and primates who take their lives in their hands every time they speak out for religious freedom and tolerance in some Islamic republic. Yes, my discipleship is pretty tepid!

I guess I could spend my time feeling guilty about all that. Surely, I am guilty in lots of this. Or, I can spend my time being grateful. Grateful to my fellow Christians who have no where to lay their heads…who are actually willing to let the dead bury the dead…and who – having put their hand to the plow – never look back!  



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