Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. Luke’s gospel reminds us of the radical call that Jesus places on our lives. Like the men in this passage, we often believe we will follow Jesus wherever he goes – until he actually asks and it is an inconvenient time or an unwelcome task.
INTENDING TO FOLLOW JESUS – Luke 9:57-62
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
He said to another man,“Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Here we have the words of Jesus to three would-be followers. He says, basically, if you want to follow me, count the cost. He does not try to be “attractional;” he speaks the truth: “Life with me will be difficult.” We hear no false pretenses, no sugar-coating. Jesus sets the bar so high that it cannot be higher. The modern church is quite worried about scaring people away, rather than drawing them to their highest calling.
Not long ago, I was on staff at a church that set the bar for their vision for the church very high, but set the actual expectations of members of the congregation very low. Comments on the spiritual formation programming were usually “That’s too much to expect from people.” Or “No one would ever commit to that.” ( However, the ones who caught the vision Jesus cast would and did come).
In his commentary on this passage, William Barclay says:
“It may well be that we have done great hurt to the church by letting people think that church membership need not make so very much difference. We ought to tell them that it should make all the difference in the world. We might have fewer people but those we had would be really pledged to Christ.”
♥ At the beginning of this passage, a man along the road asks if he can come along. Jesus’ answer in The Message is, “Are you ready to rough it?” This week imagine that Jesus asks you to do something that would require you to give up the security and stability of your life to follow him? Test yourself this week (or even for a day) by living without something that is important to maintain your lifestyle: give up technology; don’t use your oven or microwave (and don’t go out to eat instead); cut your discretionary spending by 75%; eat only one meal a day. If Jesus gave you a mission that means a lifestyle “hardship,” could you accept it?
♥ Jesus tells the man who wants to bury his father before he follows, “First things first.” Barclay suggests that in all likelihood the man meant, “I will follow you after my father dies.” Jesus’s answer reminds of the tenuousness of intentions. There is always a crucial moment when we have to make a choice and the opportunity to choose the other option never comes around again. Jesus urges us to act at once when our hearts are stirred. This week you may get a prompting such as “I should visit him” or “She would appreciate a card.” Or “I wonder if they need help with this.” Or “I should let him know he did a great job.” Or “I think I would like that class.” Follow the prompting. Jesus tells us that good intentions mean nothing.
♥ In the third encounter Jesus reminds us that nothing is done well while we are looking back over our shoulder. Looking backward and living in the past are not compatible with a life with Jesus. The watchword of the kingdom is not “Backwards!” but “Forward!” This week, check your thinking. Are you in the past in the “good old days?” Or are you going forward with Jesus.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“Churches want to attract people. But do we ever repel anyone? What does it say about a church if nobody ever walks away, murmuring, ‘This teaching is difficult?'” (Lou Lotz in Words of Hope)