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.” — Luke 9:57–62 ESV
When I’ve had opportunity to discuss these passages something interesting usually happens. I’m usually treated to a discussion centered around what Jesus “really” must have meant. Curiously, that isn’t what he actually said.
What I think frightens us about this passage is we see ourselves in the hearts and minds of these men. Each of us in our own way hear other calls and feel other obligations. We are desperate to find some different meaning in Christ’s words. We can’t believe he would actually not allow us to even say goodbye to our own family. So we busy ourselves with inventive interpretations of Greek words and insights into first century Hebrew culture. Somehow we must explain why he couldn’t have meant “let the dead bury their own dead”. I get that.
Frankly, part of me wants to join them. I could then conclude (after exhaustive study) that what Jesus really meant was “No worries, go home, bury your Father, say goodbye to your friends and relatives. Get a good nights sleep, bring a pillow and a good blanket. We’ll always be here when you get back.”
Jesus can’t be put-off — even for good reasons. These men only asked for what was proper and expected. For all of them, Jesus required them to choose between him and what was proper and expected.
But his call is not to understand his intent. His call is to follow, and apparently, we cannot set our own terms. If following Christ means anything, it must include abandoning where you were going and following him elsewhere. Anything less… is less than following… anything less than following is the same as walking away and choosing a different path than the one he is on. It is the narrow path and clearly not everyone is willing to go down it.
All of us have taken our hand off the plow, looked back and remained silent. We are all unworthy of him. Like Peter, we must decide if we too will walk away. But it’s not our worthiness that’s at issue. I think Jesus would absolutely ask us to decide, but he would also ask us to follow.
For me, before I start asking questions I think it’s wiser to simply follow. Perhaps then I can ask what he really meant. If I’ve learned anything about him, I’ve learned that his answer to those who follow will be full of grace. He will provide for me in need, he will grieve with me in sorrow, and he will adopt me into his own family as a child of God.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… — Philippians 3:8 ESV